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April 03. 2013 8:02PM

Board rules it's too late for neighbors to appeal Weare gun shop

WEARE - A case involving a gun shop owner's right to run his business in a residential neighborhood is heading to court after the zoning board of adjustment ruled Monday night that an appeal by neighbors came too late after the business was approved by the town.

Michael "Gunny" Stevens of 161 Thorndike Road converted his home-based automotive repair business into a gun shop called Classic Armorer several years ago. At the shop, Stevens sells, fixes, and maintains firearms for folks all over town including members of the Weare Police Department. However, when Stevens opened a commercial firing range on the property in 2010, he caught the attention of his neighbors who started complaining about the noise.

The town has since filed a cease-and-desist order against Stevens, precluding him from using his yard as a commercial firing range, but shots can still be heard coming from the property because Stevens fires off rounds to check his work. The noise from the shooting, along with parking complaints and the presence of heavily armed people coming in and out of Classic Armorer prompted neighbors to file an appeal with the zoning board, stating that the business didn't belong in a residential area.

But after a lengthy hearing last month where Attorney Olivier Sakellarios, who represents abutter Al Provost, and Tony Soltani, who represents Stevens, presented their sides of the story, the board consulted with the town's attorney and ruled too much time has passed for an administrative appeal, said the town's Land Use Officer Chip Meany.

Meany, who recused himself from deliberations because Stevens is a friend, said that the board found that permission was granted to Stevens to run the gun shop out of his home in 2009.

"The appeal has to be made within a reasonable amount of time after a business is approved," he said, "and four years is just too long."

Sakellarios disagrees with how the board viewed the case and said that recent decisions by the board regarding the business opened up the right for neighbors to appeal. But he said he wasn't surprised that the board ruled in favor of Stevens.

"This is small-town politics going on. The members of the police department of clients, the code enforcer [Meany] had to recuse himself because he's friends with Mr. Stevens, even the zoning board chairman is a client of Classic Armorer," said Sakellarios. "We knew we would end up in Superior Court."

Sakellarios said he believes that once the case is moved out of Weare and into the court, the fact that the shop doesn't belong in a residential neighborhood will become obvious to the judge.

"He's clearly in violation. Clearly," said Sakellarios.

Soltani said the board "did exactly what it was supposed to do," and said the case is better suited for court.

"There is no doubt in my mind that this will end up in favor of the Stevens, and there is limited doubt in my mind that if they do take this to court they will be forced to pay attorney costs because of the frivolity of this case," he said. "I don't want to take money from them, but this is just not right."

In the meantime, the cease-and-desist order will continue to prevent Stevens from using his yard as a commercial firing range and he'll have to seek a site plan review from the planning board if he wants to reopen that component of the business, Meany said.

nfoster@newstote.com

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