Fireworks business looks to open in town

Milton’s Development Review Board reviewed an application last Thursday that, if approved, would allow a business to sell consumer fireworks during the summer months.

The conditional use approval request, submitted by Matthew Lavigne and William Kirk, asked the board to approve the use of approximately 11 acres owned by David Goodrich Properties located at 496 Route 7 South in the Checkerberry zoning district for temporary consumer fireworks sales out of a commercial display tent ending August 31.

The hearing began with town planner Jeff Castle reading a letter submitted by adjacent landowner Michael McCormick urging the board to deny the application. In the letter, McCormick posed a series of questions regarding security measures, electrical access and signage.

“Milton is actively seeking to upgrade its commercial image, and a semi-permanent tent sale will be more of a deterrent than an enhancement,” McCormick wrote.

Throughout the hearing, the board covered 25 points regarding policies, violations and expectations for Kirk and Lavigne, both of whom ran a similar fireworks sales operation in St. Albans last year.

Lavigne began by addressing inquiries from board chairman Bruce Jenkins and member David Conley about the legality of selling fireworks and permitting rules.

“It’s legal for people to purchase fireworks, and it’s legal for us to sell fireworks,” Lavigne said. “When they leave the property, if they don’t have a permit, then they’re in violation because they are supposed to have a permit from the local fire chief.”

Ideally, he said customers would have permits before coming to purchase fireworks, but having a license to discharge fireworks is on the customer, he added after a question from Jessica Groeling, a DRB alternate.

Despite this, Lavigne and Kirk give customers a form to help promote safety and accountability.

“When a customer comes to the store for their first purchase, we take their driver’s license and we photocopy it,” Lavigne said. “The first page goes over safety guidelines and how to use fireworks. On the back side there is a release of liability so they understand it could be dangerous.”

Kirk said the process is straight forward, only requiring the fire chief to sign off after customers provide a copy of their homeowner’s insurance.

The board also asked the applicants about potential public health risks, delving into the specifics around firework storage and composition.

Lavigne told the board that although he could legally possess 100,000 pounds of fireworks – as long as the store is 20 feet from an inhabited building – he doesn’t expect the duo to store more than 20,000 pounds.

Only a few hundred pounds would be displayed at a time for sales and never out of eyesight, Lavigne added.

While he won’t be required to in Milton, Lavigne said he slept onsite in St. Albans last summer to keep the tent secure.

The summer heat, Lavigne said, wouldn’t pose danger either. The 40-foot shipping container to store the fireworks is pre-approved for display firework storage, outfitted with the appropriate number and type of locks and built with a wood floor.

To secure the container when the business is closed – around 8:30 every night – Lavigne, a former alarm technician, said he has considered getting motion sensor cameras that could send 10-second clips to his phone if activity was detected.

The fireworks themselves are also tested for heat resistance, both applicants noted.

“They’re randomly tested when they’re on the manufacturing line. They’re put in an oven at 250 degrees for two hours,” Lavigne said.

When Groeling asked about the difference between consumer-grade and commercial fireworks, Lavigne explained the latter are significantly stronger and more volatile than the display ones they duo would sell.

The latter portion of the hearing centered on the business’ effect on the surrounding community and the zoning requirements.

In response to one of McCormick’s questions, Lavigne said the duo would be careful to have the required signage, which would prohibit smoking and using the product within 300 feet on the property.

In addition, Kirk said they would mark parking spots, including a handicap spot, with cones at least 20 feet from any structure, per the fire marshal. 

“We probably see 20 cars or so a day,” Kirk said, referencing their operation in St. Albans.

The DRB has 45 days to review and the application. If it is approved, the permit then has a 30-day appeal period during which the zoning permit process can begin but can be halted if someone appeals to the state environmental court.

“It’s for the judge to decide. Like any lawsuit, if they feel the DRB failed in approving this they can file an appeal stating why,” Castle said.

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