Range may rock again

  • Caryl Leeds, Grace Baron, Tanisha McGreevy, Nicole Ruggiero and Lynn Dickerson hold up signs asking for a “Yes” vote during voting times Tuesday. STAFF PHOTO BY Ashley Saar.

  • Town Moderator Catherine Schwenk and Town Clerk Deb Morrison collect ballots from voters during Special Town Meeting on Tuesday. Staff photo by Ashley Saari

  • Nicole Ruggiero, who runs Marty’s Driving Range along with her father Martin Ruggiero, campaigns outside of the Town Hall during voting Tuesday. STAFF PHOTO BY Ashley Saari

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 6/8/2016 7:03:08 PM

Nicole Ruggeiro stood with a small group of supporters, each holding a sign. “Save the Range” “Stand with Marty’s” “Vote Yes, Let the ZBA Handle the Rest”

Ultimately, that’s what voters did in a special Town Meeting vote held Tuesday, voting 240 yes to 165 no to allow outdoor summer entertainment by special exception in the GRAF district in Mason.

While not specific to Marty’s Driving Range, the article was crafted by Nicole and Martin Ruggiero, after the town shut down the summer concert series at their driving range after noise and parking complaints. While not a guarantee that the concerts can restart this year – as the business will still have to complete a Special Exception process in front of the Zoning Board – it does open up the possibility.

“This is not a free-for-all to turn Mason into the Vegas strip,” Nicole Ruggiero told a resident who stopped by to ask her some questions before heading into the Town Hall to vote.

The article itself places some restrictions on when the outdoor entertainment can happen – limiting it to three or fewer events per week from Memorial Day Weekend to and including Columbus Day Weekend. It also specifies that events can end no later than 11 p.m. on holidays and weekends and 10 p.m. on weekdays. The Zoning Board or Planning Board could also place additional restrictions based on a property’s specific circumstances.

While the article allows any type of outdoor entertainment, anywhere in the GRAF zone, which covers most of the town, most voters associate the vote with the Marty’s Driving Range concerts, and those that turned up to vote yes did so in solidarity with the Ruggieros.

“Music is the food of love, and that’s what they support,” said Mason resident Mary Meacher, just after voting yes on the article.

Marty’s Driving Range has yet to open this year, and if the Ruggieros cannot get permission from the town to continue to hold their outdoor concerts, it will shut down for good, said Nicole Ruggiero.

“We will close, which has caused some controversy, with people asking why we were able to survive for so many years without the concerts, and now it’s a problem,” she said. “But we weren’t really surviving without the concerts, to be honest.”

The concerts were an economic boost and a way to attract new customers, said Nicole Ruggiero, but they were also a passion project that made the whole endeavor of Marty’s Driving Range attractive to her. Nicole spearheaded the concerts after she began helping her father to run the business after the death of her mother a few years ago.

It was hard work for not much profit, said Nicole.

“But I didn’t mind essentially volunteering my time when it was something I’m passionate about,” she said.

The Ruggieros have already had a conceptual hearing with the Planning Board to discuss what may be required by the board during a site plan review process, and plan to file a request for a special exception with the Zoning Board as soon as possible.

When the Driving Range added the concerts, the business never approached the town to go through a site plan review process or to get a change of use permit, both of which the town determined that it should have before creating events with such impact on surrounding neighbors. While the concerts went on for a few years, eventually complaints from residents about the noise of the concerts – which neighbors even nearly a mile away reported being able to hear – and street parking clogging the roadways and the late nature of the concerts caused the town to order the Ruggieros to cease their concerts last summer.

The Ruggieros first tried to appeal the decision by asking for a variance from the Zoning Board of Adjustment to allow the concerts to continue, but the board ultimately denied the variance, and then denied the Ruggieros request for a re-hearing.

Not deterred, the Ruggieros decided to put in an amendment by petition for the official Town Meeting ballot in March. However, based on information from the town offices, the Ruggieros submitted the proposed amendment too late to appear on the zoning ballot, instead submitting it during the timeframe for items on the regular warrant.

The town, accepting the possibility that the Ruggieros had inadvertently been given incorrect information regarding the deadline, agreed to hold a special Town Meeting – which was held Tuesday – to vote on the issue. The article residents voted on Tuesday was similar to the one originally drafted by the Ruggieros, but has entertainment allowed by special exception, rather than by right

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT.


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