Monday December 10, 2012

KEITH WHITCOMB JR.

Staff Writer

BENNINGTON -- The Development Review Board is currently limited to reviewing only the site plan for the Hale Mountain Rod and Gun Club's shooting range because questions regarding other aspects of the operation will be going before the Vermont Supreme Court.

DRB Chairwoman Megan Donckers said that was the advice the board got from its attorney, Robert Woolmington. At a meeting Wednesday the DRB limited its discussion to the site plan Hale Mountain submitted, which involves only physical structures.

The club has been involved in a legal battle with its neighbors, primarily Kathleen and Owen Beauchesne, for a number of years. The Beauchesnes own a nearby farm that involves a camp for autistic children. They claim the club has expanded significantly since the late 1980s and not sought proper permits from the town. The most recent significant development in the legal saga was an Oct. 4 decision issued by Environmental Court Judge Thomas Durkin, which required the club to seek permits on 14 structures built since 1989. The Beauchesnes have filed an appeal to that decision and have said the changes that need to be looked at go back much farther and many are not allowed by the town's zoning bylaws.

Donckers said with the appeal, the court order is unenforceable and anything the DRB would require beyond the site plan could be rendered moot by the Vermont Supreme Court.


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Such issues would be in regards to noise and the expansion of a pre-existing, non-conforming use.

The DRB asked Charles Stewart, a club member working on the site plan drawings, to add the location of outdoor lights, a driveway, and a water line used by Bennington to the site plan map. Donckers said she was concerned about some procedure issues and rules regarding site visits, and suggested the DRB go to Hale Mountain in pairs. She said this would avoid triggering open meeting laws and not violate rules on information taken by the DRB outside of proper testimony procedures.

Whenever a certain amount of public board members gather to discuss board business, it counts as a meeting and must be warned with minutes taken and the public is welcome to attend. By going in pairs, the DRB would not trigger this requirement as nothing resembling a meeting would be occurring. DRB members are also limited on how and when they can receive information about an application. Going in pairs allows there to be a witness to whatever information is passed at the site visit.

The board also voted to allow photographs of the gun club's building's be submitted in lieu of floor plans. None are above 30 feet and all are open structures, making a floor plan less than necessary.