Saturday, August 13, 2016

Winchester residents fired up about proposed shooting range

By Xander Landen Sentinel Staff

WINCHESTER — Residents took aim at a plan to build a shooting range in town Thursday night.
About 60 people gathered at the zoning board meeting where Ridgeline Shooting Sports LLC, a Massachusetts-based company, presented its design for a shooting range and wilderness survival skills training area that would be built on nearly 250 acres between Route 119 and Fenton Hill Road.
After the company’s presentation, about a dozen people spoke before the board, criticizing the proposal over economic, safety and noise concerns.

Sander Lee, who lives on Ashuelot Street, less than 700 feet from the proposed range, said during the meeting he’s worried about how the consistent sound of gun shots would affect the quality of life in town.
“We moved to this area because it’s a quiet rural peaceful area, and this is going to destroy that,” Lee said in an interview with The Sentinel before the meeting.
Alex Hartmann, the president of Ridgeline Shooting Sports, said the range would be designed to minimize noise pollution.
With the infrastructure his company is planning to put in place, Hartmann said he will be able to “bring (the sound) below the levels of the ambient sound on Route 119.”
A Plywall sound barrier designed to deflect sound waves would be built around part of the property, according to Ridgeline’s written application to the board.
Hartmann also said he would plant vegetation throughout the property to absorb some of the noise, and cover and side the 19 proposed lines of fire where shots would go off.
He acknowledged that it would be impossible to completely eliminate the sound of gun shots coming from the range.
Lee said even if the sounds of gun shots are muffled, the quality of life in the area will decrease significantly if residents can hear them on a regular basis.
“It’s going to fundamentally change the character of that area and that neighborhood,” he said.
Others residents were concerned about the danger a shooting range might pose to those who live near it.
Julianne Mallet, who lives off Fenton Hill Road, behind the proposed shooting range, said her house is in the same general direction as the line of fire. She said she’s worried about her two young children being hit by a stray bullet, or wandering onto the range.
“I know there’s a lot of mothers that are sitting here today and who are not sitting here today ... that are not OK with this,” Mallet said at the meeting.
But Hartmann said that with fences along the property, clearly posted signs and range security officers constantly monitoring activity on the firing range, it would be nearly impossible for someone to get injured.
“No one in the public would be in danger unless they purposely put themselves in danger,” he said in an interview with The Sentinel after the meeting.
Hartmann added that because the firing range sits 60 feet below properties on Fenton Hill Road, and because there would also be 20-foot-tall berms — walls designed to stop bullets — set up us a safety precaution at the level of the properties, Mallet and her children would not be put in danger by stray gunfire.
If the proposed gun range were built and opened, Hartmann estimates that 300 patrons would be drawn to the business every week. Not all patrons would be firing guns, however, as Hartmann said they would have to pass a series of strict tests before they could shoot.
“I can’t stress enough that it’s not like your normal gun club where a bunch of people show up to see how fast they can shoot,” Hartmann said.
Hartmann told town residents at the meeting that aside from the range, his business would also offer courses on how to use firearms, and educational programs to teach wilderness survival skills.
If it opened, he said, it would be an economic boon to the community.
As the only 1,000-yard shooting range in New England, Hartmann said it would draw in tourists from all over the region who would, in turn, pour money into Winchester’s local businesses.
But town residents argued the range would only create a handful of jobs for the area and cited lower property values as a potential cost to Winchester.
“The only benefit is to the owner of the range,” resident Paul Taylor said at the meeting.
Despite the criticism he heard at Thursday’s meeting, Hartmann said he’s already received a lot of support for the project and feels confident going forward.
“The thing with zoning meetings is that the people that want it don’t feel the need to come fight for it. ... The people that don’t want it are going to be the most outspoken,” Hartmann said.
Ridgeline came before the board Thursday night seeking a special exception and variance because the property on which it hopes to build spans commercial, residential and agricultural zoning districts.
At the end of the meeting, the board made a motion to continue the public hearing on the proposal, citing the public’s overwhelming concern over the project.
“I want to make sure that people have the opportunity to have their voices heard,” zoning board Chairman Lou Fox said.
The next public hearing on the proposal will be held Thursday, Sept. 8, at 7 p.m. at Winchester Town Hall.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Winchester's quality of life is at stake

Two public hearings in Winchester Town Hall next week have the potential to dramatically affect the town’s center and the whole village of Ashuelot.
Residents who are concerned about life in Winchester during the next decades and beyond should attend those hearings and speak up. We need to ensure that discussion is thorough and open, and decisions are either well-reasoned or postponed until they can be well-reasoned.
On Monday, Aug. 8, at 7 p.m., the Historic District Commission will again take up the question of whether to allow demolition of a 200-year-old house in the town’s central square. This review process now seems more balanced than when it started, but we’re by no means out of the woods.
After initially canceling the customary step of a professional inventory of the house’s historical assets, the Historic District Commission did re-commission the survey, and indeed historian May Williams completed an excellent draft. That document asserts the property is eligible for inclusion in the state and federal Register of Historic Places.
Such eligibility, once confirmed by the state, means that a commercial developer who preserves the house’s historic value could benefit from valuable local and federal tax credits and from flexibility in how to meet the requirements of the building code. Related to this, the Winchester Revitalization/Economic Development Commission is brainstorming directly with the developer about how to profit from a development plan that preserves and utilizes the house, and perhaps the historic bank as well.
Not so positive are the emotional fireworks that hamper the Historic District Commission’s work. In recent months, Historic District Commission Chairman Denis Murphy twice formally tendered his resignation and then withdrew it. During a Historic District Commission meeting he inexplicably explained that “There really is no such thing as history, at least not since 1492,” and shortly thereafter stormed out of the meeting.
The commission has as yet delayed approving the minutes of two meetings, and the draft version of one set of minutes failed to include key events: the vote to re-schedule the historic survey; and the chairman’s explanation of why the commission previously voted to cancel the inventory. It was, he said, because a town employee had counseled him that guidelines did not specifically require it, and therefore scheduling could expose the town to a suit from the developer. That draft also did not record an apt observation by resident Chris Thompson. Thompson noted that it would be more prudent for the Historic District Commission to worry that residents would sue the town if it did NOT undertake the historic survey because that was central to the commission’s fulfilling its core responsibility.
On Thursday, Aug. 11, at 7 p.m., the Zoning Board of Appeals takes up a developer’s request for a zoning variance in order to build a massive firing range and survival-skills park (the biggest in New England). The location is undeveloped and rural land between Old Chesterfield Road and Route 119. The developers have plans to mitigate noise pollution and chemical pollution, and to ensure safety for children, adults, and domestic and wild animals. However, at this point their assertions about mitigation are only theoretical. The challenge is for residents and the ZBA to be able to accurately test and evaluate what the nearly constant noise of gunfire will really be like.
Additionally, residents need to consider what it will be like to have armed survival-skill students wandering around at night in the acres abutting their properties. Further, we should consider other examples. With the introduction of louder and more powerful guns, there’s now a pattern across the country of such facilities ramping up, and a pattern, not surprisingly, of conflicts between the facilities and their neighbors. As nearby as Peterborough, residents have complained that the quality of their lives and value of their properties both lessened when the Monadnock Gun Club increased its noise impact and then refused to respond to a request from that town’s select board to try to quiet the operation. We may want to consider the experience and opinions of those in Peterborough.
I hope to see many neighbors at both hearings. Now is the time to make choices that will send the town rolling down particular roads. Will that development be the kind that it builds upon the real value we already have, stimulating a variety of businesses that will generate and spread income and wealth through our community? Or will that development liquidate our unique historical and environmental assets, for the benefit of others, and set a tone that will discourage, or even shut out, more beneficial and attractive development. It’s up to us.

Oppose shooting range in tranquil Ashuelot

We wish to urge all residents of Winchester to attend the town meeting on Thursday, Aug. 11, at 7 p.m. in the Winchester Town Hall to discuss the proposed shooting range.
We have lived in Ashuelot (part of Winchester) for 26 years. We strongly oppose opening a shooting range so close to our home. The constant noise and increased traffic would infringe on our peaceful lives. We have a right to continue our lives in the space we have created for ourselves; the shooting range would be a great detriment to that way of life. It would also dramatically change the lives of our neighbors, many of whom have small children and animals. The applicants claim there will be sound barriers, but no such barriers will be able to eliminate the shots with the range so close to our house. We are not opposed to shooting ranges located in appropriate commercial areas. This range, however, is planned for a residential area, where our neighbors and we will be greatly affected.
We are so disturbed by this possibility that we have even thought that we might have to move if the shooting range is approved. However, even this might not be possible, as having a shooting range so close will drastically reduce the property value of our home and that of our neighbors. We urge our neighbors, the members of the Zoning Board of Adjustment and all other relevant officials to oppose this special exception to the zoning laws.
Please, we beg you, do not allow this shooting range to ruin the tranquility of our lives and those of our neighbors.


Sunday, July 31, 2016

More Noise brought to you by another out of stater

As if the race tracks and the quarry at the North end of town isn't enough noise, another out of state man is looking to disturb the way of life for more of Winchester's citizens.. Are you ready to stand up and fight for your peace and tranquility? Not that it will do you any good...

Shooting range, wilderness survival facility proposed for Winchester

 By Meghan Foley Sentinel Staff

WINCHESTER — A Massachusetts man aims to create an "outdoor Shooting Sport Park mecca for New England" in the Monadnock Region. Plans are in the works to turn three properties between Hinsdale and Fenton Hill roads in Winchester into a shooting range and wilderness survival skills training area.
People using the wilderness area will learn skills such as how to find out where they are without using electronic assistance, navigate through areas using a map and compass, conceal themselves, make themselves visible for rescues, prepare an emergency shelter, perform basic first aid, and mentally prepare themselves for a night in the woods, according to the project's application with the Winchester Zoning Board of Adjustment.
Ridgeline Shooting Sports LLC, a Massachusetts-based company, is scheduled to appear before the zoning board next month seeking a special exception and variance for the business.
If the zoning board approves the company's requests, the project would then have to go to the planning board for approval.
Alex Hartmann, president of Ridgeline Shooting Sports, said Friday he started looking into opening a marksmanship park after he moved back to New England. He learned there was a need for such a business in the region, he said.
So he seized the opportunity and, after looking at several properties, found what he needed in Winchester, he said.
"Location-wise, I wanted to be in southern New Hampshire," Hartmann, a former U.S. Marine scout sniper, said.
He also wanted a property which was big enough to shoot safely and efficiently, with terrain as level as possible, he said.
"In putting this forward, we're trying to be stewards of shooting sports. We want to be a good neighbor and be a functioning park in the local area instead of a just a thorn in everybody's side," he said.
Besides hiring area residents to work at the facility, he also hopes to provide a place to work for military veterans having a difficult time transitioning back to civilian life, he said.
"Hopefully this place can be a stepping stone for them so they can move on to bigger and better things," he said.
The three properties Hartmann is eyeing are owned by N&M Winchester Properties LLC of Brattleboro, and span the agricultural, commercial and residential zoning districts, according to the project's application.
The parcels are 32, 101 and 115 acres. Two of the lots, which are between Hinsdale Road (Route 119) and Fenton Hill Road, would be used for the outdoor shooting park, the application said.
The facility, Ridgeline Marksmanship Park, would be geared toward mid- to long-range, and action shooting, according to the application. There would be three long-range shooting ranges covering distances of 600 to 1,000 yards, four mid-range courses, and eight short-range courses, including a teaching range, the application said.
The entrance to the shooting park would be off Hinsdale Road at the far end of the complex near the property line. The driveway would lead to a parking lot, which would be next to a prefabricated building housing a pro-shop, classroom, offices and storage, according to the application.
The front of the building would have a pavilion where people can eat, rest and talk.
The third property, which abuts Fenton Hill and Fulman Pond roads, would be for the land navigation and survival skills area, according to the application.
The navigation area would remain almost entirely wooded, and a small network of trails and skidder paths may be developed over time, the application said.
Besides approval from the Winchester zoning and planning boards, the facility would also need state approval, according to Hartmann.
The timing is somewhat at the mercy of when the approvals come through, he said, although if all goes well, he'd like to open the marksmanship park at some point next year.
"At this point, it's kind of a hopeful shot in the dark," he said.

*The Winchester Zoning Board of Adjustment will hold a public hearing on the special exception and variance on Thursday, Aug. 11 at 7 p.m. at the town hall. 

Other shooting ranges in the Monadnock Region include the Cheshire County Fish and Game Club in Keene and the Monadnock Rod and Gun Club in Jaffrey.

So, with 2 other shooting ranges already in the area, just where is this need he speaks of?

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Winchester to continue sending students to Keene High -- for now

By Meghan Foley Sentinel Staff

WINCHESTER — The Winchester School Board won’t pull the town’s students from Keene High School, even though it remains in a stalemate with its Keene counterpart about whether the teenagers can attend other schools.
Meanwhile, several Winchester parents and community members defended Keene High School at a tumultuous Winchester School Board meeting Monday night, saying the city school is the best option for the town’s teenagers.
They also accused the Winchester board of having a bias against Keene, and of not being transparent about the process, not having respect for the public, and not having a plan should Winchester end its tuition agreement with Keene.
“In the end, it wasn’t so much Keene High School versus something else. It was the behavior of the school board that had people concerned and upset because (the board) was seeking to change schools without a plan,” said resident Chris Thompson, who attended the meeting. “If Keene High had called the bluff, the kids coming out right now of the Winchester School would have nowhere to go.”
Winchester School Board Chairman Rick Horton defended his board in an interview Tuesday, arguing that not all Winchester students do well at Keene High, and his board’s goal is to provide options so all students can succeed.
“The piece of it being overlooked by people, including Keene, is everybody is looking at this as an all or nothing,” he said.
The school board believes it doesn’t have to be that way, and students can have choice.
The Winchester board voted unanimously on June 2 to notify the Keene Board of Education that unless it agreed to modify the contract’s exclusivity clauses, which prevent students in grades 9 through 12 from attending high schools other than the city’s, by June 29, the Winchester board intended to terminate the agreement, effective June 30, 2019.
The contract has been in place since 2003, when Winchester began sending its high school students to Keene following a town-wide vote to close the community’s Thayer High School. That school closed in 2005.
The agreement includes a clause allowing Keene or Winchester to terminate the agreement at any time by giving written notice. The notice must specify the last school year for which the contract would be in effect, which has to be at least three full school years following the year the notice is given.
The Keene Board of Education hasn’t called the bluff, but in a June 10 letter to Winchester Superintendent James M. Lewis, board members said they would accept a recent letter from the town’s school board as notice that it was terminating the tuition agreement.
Horton responded in a June 16 letter to Robert H. Malay, superintendent of N.H. School Administrative Unit 29, that the Winchester board didn’t vote to terminate the tuition contract between the two school districts. It “merely voted to express its future intent as of that date.”
Besides Keene, SAU 29 covers the Chesterfield, Harrisville, Marlborough, Marlow, Nelson and Westmoreland school districts.
Should such a vote to terminate the contract happen, the Winchester School Board would provide notice of termination, Horton said.
Edward R. Murdough, Keene Board of Education chairman, responded on June 21, asking the Winchester School Board to clarify its intentions because he said its June 16 letter conveyed a different message than an earlier correspondence.
Toward the end of Monday’s meeting, the Winchester School Board agreed to rescind what many viewed as an ultimatum to Keene, and not terminate the contract.
Horton said Tuesday that Winchester planned to send a letter to Keene school officials that day notifying them of the decision.
Residents and Winchester school officials have questioned in recent years if sending the town’s high school students to Keene is the best option.
Their concerns have included the rising cost of tuition, frustration with what they say is a lack of information about how Winchester students are doing as a group at Keene High School and students losing their sense of community because they’re leaving a small school to attend a larger one about 30 minutes away.
In 2012, the majority of voters participating in the annual Winchester School District meeting approved an advisory-only petition warrant article to study withdrawing the town’s students from Keene High School, and either sending them to a reopened Thayer High School, or a high school elsewhere.
Last year, voters at the school district’s annual meeting approved a warrant article, 374-269, stating it was not in the town’s best interest to tuition its high school students to Keene.
Murdough said Tuesday Keene doesn’t want to terminate its tuition agreement with Winchester, and has tried to respond to all of the concerns of the town’s residents and school board members.
He noted that of the 10 towns sending students to Keene High School, only Winchester has consistently expressed dissatisfaction with the arrangement.
Winchester is the largest sending town; its 165 students represent about 12 percent of the Keene High population of 1,334 pupils. Winchester also has the highest number of special education students, according to Murdough.
“We’re just not willing to go with less 100 percent (enrollment from Winchester),” Murdough said. “We have 10 sending towns which make up 48 percent of the enrollment at Keene High School. That’s 600 to 650 students who don’t live in Keene.”
If Keene renegotiated the exclusivity clause in Winchester contract allowing a percentage of the town’s students to attend the high school, the Keene board would feel obligated to offer the same arrangement to its other sending communities, Murdough said.
The result would be Keene school officials not knowing how many students to plan for from outside the city, he said.
“The result would be a fluctuation of about 300 students a year. You can’t run a school like that,” he said.
The Winchester School Board has been considering Pioneer Valley Regional School in Northfield, Mass., as an option for some of the town’s high school students.
Horton said that the Pioneer Valley School Board discussed having an agreement of some sort with Winchester at its meeting last week.
Winchester has received a draft of that agreement, which, he said, outlines a partnership between the school district, and plans to discuss the document at the school board’s July 7 meeting.
The board will also discuss its next steps to explore high school options for students and the relationship with Keene, Horton said.
“We’re going to continue to look at finding what is best for each and every student here, not just the majority or minority, but each individual student,” he said.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016


After some lengthy discussions amongst themselves and a public hearing, in which they were berated by several employees and their supporters, the Board of Selectmen has by unanimous vote restored the 5 day work week starting next week ..

NEW Hours as of July 5, 2016
Town Hall Hours
Monday through Friday
7:30 AM to 4:30 PM