KEITH WHITCOMB JR.
SHAFTSBURY -- The state Environmental Court has directed the Hale Mountain Fish and Game Club to reapply for town zoning permits.
The club has been involved in legal wrangling for the past seven years with its neighbors, Owen and Kathleen Beauchesne. The Beauchesnes have been arguing that numerous improvements done to the gun club over the years have required zoning permits which were never sought or granted.
In an Oct. 4 decision, Environmental Court Judge Thomas Durkin noted 14 improvements dating as far back as 1989, including covers over the shooting range stations, improvements to a well, caretaker trailer, and clay target storage trailer, removal of trees, construction of rabbit pens, and the creation of a berm around three sides of the property.
The club sought approval for those improvements from the town’s zoning administrator, who granted it. The approval was appealed by the Beauchesnes to the Shaftsbury Development Review Board, which vacated the ZA’s approval. The matter was then appealed by Hale Mountain to the Environmental Court.
After a one-day trial on Aug. 28, Durkin issued his decision, writing that the litigation was unfortunate for two reasons "First, that a ... level of acrimony continues to exist between the parties, even after nearly two decades of litigation, and second, that the improvements being reviewed for permit approval were constructed before a permit for the work was sought," wrote Durkin.
Durkin wrote that it was up to the club and the Beauchesnes to solve their differences but the court is obligated to rule on certain legal matters. He concluded that the improvements the club made to its facility on Rod and Gun Club Road fit within the town’s zoning bylaws but required site plans which the club didn’t submit. Durkin also wrote that an Act 250 permit is not needed, contrary to what the Beauchesnes have contended.
In his conclusion, Durkin denied Hale Mountain’s appeal and said it could submit site plans then ask the town to re-issue its permits.
Owen Beauchesne said he is pleased Durkin acknowledged that Hale Mountain never had the proper permits.
"In the end they’re going to keep what they have," he said adding that people will now be watching the permitting process and things will be done correctly.
Rodney McPhee, an attorney for the gun club, did not return calls seeking comment.