OSG owner responds to new neighbors' complaints
June 09, 2010
BARNSTEAD — Recent complaints from neighbors about increased traffic, noise and unauthorized construction at OSG Paintball prompted Barnstead's Planning Board to call the company's owner, David Preston, in last week for a discussion about possible zoning ordinance and building code violations.
In a letter dated May 19, board Chairman Dave Murley informed Preston that he was recently made aware of a possible expansion of OSG Paintball, as well as the building of new structures without building permits.
"Any accessory structure greater than 200 square feet must have a building permit, according to the 2009 International Building Code [IBC]," Murley wrote, going on to reference Article 8, Section 8-1 of the town's zoning ordinance, which states that "Any business may be located in Barnstead upon application and approval of the Planning Board, Selectmen and Health Officer; and provided that the business or industry or structure would not be seriously detrimental or offensive to the owners of the adjoining property, or to the town, or would tend to radically reduce property values of other property."
Also quoting Section 8-1.03 of Article 8, which requires that any business operating in Barnstead notify abutters of any significant change in the size or nature of the business, and seek approval from the planning board through a public hearing, Murley asked Preston to appear at the board's June 3 business meeting.
The complaints filed against Preston originated with Rick and Teri Cherne, who moved into a home directly across from OSG Paintball in July of last year, and claim that noise from the paintball fields and the increased flow of traffic near their home has prevented them from enjoying their property.
"We feel like we have a renegade neighbor that has no respect for the law, their community, our neighborhood, or the impact their commercial business has on the value and enjoyment of the rest of us in this neighborhood," the couple wrote in an e-mail to Building Inspector Geoff Fossett, dated May 28, in which they alleged that construction was continuing at OSG, despite Murley's letter to Preston.
"Our growing concern is the arrogance of their feeling 'untouchable' and that the town or state of [New Hampshire] doesn't have the authority to enforce anything," the couple explained.
"The traffic, noise, and disregard for the law are extremely offensive and a detriment to the peace and enjoyment of our neighborhood," they added.
[Editor's note: The Chernes also brought their concerns to the board of selectmen last week. See our re-cap of the June 1 selectmen's meeting in our print edition for further details.]
During the board's June 3 meeting, which was attended by the Chernes and several selectmen, as well as a number of residents who appeared in a show of support for him, Preston opened his discussion with the board by reading from a prepared statement.
Explaining that he has "proudly and openly" operated OSG Paintball for the past 17 years, Preston said he believes strongly in giving back to the community, pointing to the way in which he and his neighbors banded together to repair North Barnstead Road in the wake of the 2007 April floods and clean up the area after the 2008 tornado as examples of his willingness to lend a helping hand.
"In my eyes, my business provides a benefit to this community," he said, adding that OSG generates tourism that helps keep local businesses, such as the Barnstead Country Store, afloat.
Addressing the possible ordinance and building code violations listed in Murley's letter, Preston re-iterated that OSG is "not a new business," and said there has been no significant change in the size or nature of his business since it opened.
"I'm always open to any reasonable request by any neighbor," he commented, claiming that the Chernes have made no effort to contact him with their concerns, and calling their e-mail to Fossett "slanderous."
Addressing the allegations that he has been building new structures in violation of current codes and without a permit, Preston explained that any new structures the Chernes might have seen at the paintball field are nothing more than empty facades used as props, which are not equipped with plumbing, heating, or any other amenities that would qualify them as habitable under the IBC.
Noting that the issue of whether or not the props at OSG qualified as habitable structures came up when he appeared before the board to address concerns about a castle at the field in 2006, Preston said that as far as he was concerned, the matter was settled at that time.
Board Vice Chair Bill Evans (who chaired last week's meeting in Murley's absence) said that as he understood it, the board's initial approval of OSG's site plan in 1993 and its approval of the amended site plan in 2002 hinged on the fields only being open on Fridays and Saturdays.
Preston claimed, however, that he was never restricted to weekends only, and said he often opens during the week for private parties or R.O.T.C. training exercises.
Board member Clarke Goodrich asked whether Preston had a formal plan on file with the town stating specific days, times, and hours of operation.
Preston said he did.
Asked by Goodrich whether he had ever submitted any changes to that plan, Preston explained that the only change in his site plan was an expansion of the parking area in 2002.
Goodrich asked whether permits were required for the building facades used as props at OSG.
Preston replied that the facades are classified as recreational structures, and are therefore exempt from permitting requirements.
Asked by Goodrich whether he had undertaken any additional usage of his property, Preston replied that he had, in fact, reduced the size of the paintball operation by 2,800 square feet in 2002 by eliminating two fields.
Since OSG opened, he said, he has not purchased or expanded onto any additional land.
Asked by selectmen's representative Andy Houle whether the property was still listed under current use, Preston said he had sought a discretionary easement for the paintball field on the advice of the town's assessor.
At Evans' suggestion, the remaining board members agreed to conduct a site walk at OSG on Thursday, June 17, at 6:30 p.m.
Teri Cherne urged the board, however, to wait until a weekend or until the next major event at OSG before conducting a site walk in order to gather a more accurate impression of the level of noise and traffic the paintball fields generate at peak times.
After learning that the Chernes had moved into their home in July of 2009, long after Preston opened OSG, board member Nancy Carr questioned whether the couple had looked into what might be involved in living across from a paintball field.
"Did you ever go up on a weekend when you were buying the property?" she asked.
Teri Cherne said the couple were told by their realtor that activity at OSG had been restricted to the fields on the other side of Preston's property.
Asked by Carr whether he and his wife knew what paintball was when they purchased their property, or had done any research on what it involved, Rick Cherne said he was aware of what it was, but had no idea how much of a disturbance it would be.
Commenting that the only approval he and Teri had seen for OSG in the planning department's files was for the use of only 40,000 square feet of Preston's property, not the 33 acres currently being used for paintball, Rick Cherne said the couple's chief concern was with bringing any possible ordinance violations to the attention of town officials.
Posing some questions of her own to Preston, Carr asked how many players, on average, use OSG on Saturdays.
Preston replied that he sees typically sees anywhere from 50 to 150 players on an average weekend day.
Asked by Carr what OSG's maximum occupancy is, Preston said his insurance company, Lloyd's of London, imposes a limit of 500.
He has never seen more than 250 players at any one time, however, he added.
Asked what time the facility opens, Preston explained that the gates typically open at 7:30 a.m.
While some players arrive early to test out their equipment, he said, games begin at 9:30 a.m. and end at 4 p.m.
Players, he said, are usually out of the facility by 4:30 p.m., with employees following at around 5:30 p.m.
Asked by Carr how many people he employs, Preston said he currently has more than 20 part-time employees – a fact that he said is important to the town in light of the recession.
While he did not, for the most part, allow public comment during last week's meeting in view of the fact that Preston's appearance before the board was not a formal hearing, Evans explained that if the board determines during its upcoming site walk that violations have occurred at OSG, and asks Preston to return for a new public hearing on an amended site plan, input from the public will be permitted during those proceedings.
Brendan Berube can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 569-3126