Gun club permit under fire, again

Friday September 17, 2010

SHAFTSBURY -- The Development Review Board heard testimony Wednesday on appeals to 12 building permits issued to the Hale Mountain Fish and Game Club.

The club's neighbors, Owen and Kathy Beauchesne, filed the appeals. They mark another step in a legal dispute that has been going since 2004 and has been to the Environmental Court and the Vermont Supreme Court.

In March 2009, the Supreme Court upheld an Environmental Court decision that said the club does not need to go through a complete Act 250 permit process, but some changes that have been made require permits under the town's zoning bylaws.

Former Zoning Administrator Kenneth Coonradt said he issued the 12 permits in December for the pre-existing structures.

According to Environmental Court documents, the permits were for pre-existing work done between 1992 and 2002 ranging from the construction of buildings and fences to tree removal and culvert extensions.

No records

Owen Beauchesne said the appeals are mainly on the grounds that they required the zoning administrator to conduct site visits before issuing permits. There is no record of any such visits being done, he said.

Beauchesne submitted a number of documents to the DRB, saying they reflect a history of zoning laws not being enforced when it comes to the club. He said aerial photos show construction projects being done in the 1990s when zoning was in effect. Beauchesne claimed the club is a for-profit entity rather than a non-profit. He said lead from the shooting ranges has contaminated a nearby wetland.

The meeting was attended by roughly 20 people. Many appeared to be club members.

Board Chairwoman Phylis Porio said the board will consider the documents submitted by Beauchesne and the attorney for Hale Mountain, Chris Blanchard. She said some of Beauchesne's evidence will be considered background information, as there is a 15-year statute of limitations on some of the alleged violations and the court has precluded some of the claims made.

The board voted to continue the hearing at its next meeting on Oct. 6 at 7 p.m. at Cole Hall.

Beauchesne said in an interview that his problems with the club started over noise from the shooting ranges, but over the years he has come to feel the club has been skirting necessary regulatory steps as it expands.

Statute of limitations

Blanchard testified to the board that the only thing being considered is the 12 permits on appeal and anything beyond Feb. 26, 2008, has been precluded by the court or falls past the statute of limitations. He said the use of the buildings is also not an issue, and that the only question is do they fall within the limits of the zoning bylaws.

He argued that the Beauchesnes should not be considered interested parties, as they do not live in sight of the gun club and activities there do not affect them, even though their land abuts.

Board member David Mance and other members of the board said they are considering the Beauchesnes as interested parties and noted that the court had as well. Mance said non-profits that are non-conforming uses must also have site visits on their building permits.

"Normally people come in and get reviewed for things like this, even if it's an expansion," Mance said, adding that group services also fall under the town's definition of conditional use.

The Hale Mountain Fish and Game Club, located on Rod and Gun Club Road, has existed since the 1940s. Beauchesne purchased his 161-acre farm in 1986.


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