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Weare gun store owner points to 2nd Amendment in fight to stay open

Union Leader Correspondent

March 24. 2013 11:04PM

WEARE - The owner of a gun store operated out of a home on Thorndike Road said the recent zoning board hearing to determine if the business is appropriate for a residential neighborhood should never have been held.

Robin Stevens said she was "shocked at what was allowed to be heard" at the March 5 hearing on the business she owns with her husband, Michael Stevens, at 161 Thorndike Road.

"This hearing was to be a hearing on zoning of the business Classic Armorer," Stevens wrote in a letter to the editor published in The Goffstown News on March 21. "This should not have been heard since the statute of limitations on this was 30 days after we opened, which was opened four-and-a-half years ago."

At the March 5 hearing, a standing-room-only crowd offered comment on whether the gun shop is an appropriate use for the property. Michael Stevens, a retired Marine, previously operated an auto-repair shop out of his garage at 161 Thorndike Road. He converted it to a gun shop, where he repairs a variety of weapons.

Stevens also ran a shooting range on his property, offering lessons to children. But the town issued a cease-and-desist order that effectively shut down the shooting range as a commercial venture. The range is now used only as a private practice facility.

At the hearing, the Stevens' attorney, Tony Soltani, acknowledged that running a commercial shooting range on the property "probably crossed the line." Still, Soltani said anyone who repairs guns has to test them.

In her letter to the editor, Robin Stevens said the zoning board hearing turned into a "bash the Stevens' rights to enjoy our Second Amendment rights." She said the business, Classic Armorer, is "under siege" by a "begrudging neighbor who wants to shut down the gun shop."

Many of the people who showed up for the hearing complained about customers parking on the residential street and armed men and women going in and out of the shop during business hours. But the shooting range is what prompted the most criticism.

Laura Kobylis, who has two small children and lives directly across the street from Stevens, said that nap time, family time and parties are often interrupted by the sound of gunshots.

"We try to have birthday parties and as soon as the balloons go up on the mailbox, the shooting starts," she said. "It's a nuisance and doesn't belong in a residential area where people are trying to live."

When approached by a reporter at his gun shop, Stevens ordered the reporter off his property, saying he did not think that recent newspaper coverage of his business had been fair.

Land-use officer Chris Meany granted the Stevens permission to operate the gun-repair business without requiring a site plan review because, in his opinion, gun and car-repair shops have essentially the same impact on a neighborhood.

Zoning Board Chairman Jack Dearborn, a frequent visitor to the gun shop, said his panel has no control over the noise that comes from the shooting range, calling it a "civil enforcement issue."

The only issue the board can consider, Dearborn said, is whether Meany was correct in allowing the auto-repair shop to be converted into a gun-repair shop, and whether the gun-repair shop is an appropriate use for a home-based business.

The zoning board will rule on those questions at its next meeting on April 2.

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