Zoning Ordinance Dispute: Are American flags a promotion, or patriotism?

CHESTERFIELD, N.H. — The Chesterfield Planning Board approved a handful of changes to the Area 51 Fireworks site plan on Route 9 but balked when told the business owner planned to use eight United States flags for the store's grand opening and during the run-up to the July Fourth holiday.

Jim Phippard, of Brickstone Land Use Consultants in Keene, told the Planning Board on Monday night that he had been informed by the town's code enforcement officer that the temporary flag display would be allowed.

"If you want to put up 100 American flags on your property you can," said James Corliss, the Chairman of the Planning Board. But according to Chesterfield's zoning ordinance, temporary promotional signs "in connection with the opening of a business ... or sale or special events at a business may be permitted with approval of code enforcement," except for items such as "flags and balloons," which are not permitted.

The Planning Board approved a motion asking the code enforcement officer to take another look at the zoning ordinance, but did not go as far as to direct him to revise his approval.

"We ought to be able to help the code enforcement officer interpret the ordinance we wrote," said Jon McKeon, Chairman of the Chesterfield Board of Selectmen and its liaison on the Planning Board.

But Phippard asked the Planning Board to record his objection to its decision on the flags.

"The American flag on the property is not a sign, its a Constitutional right. I don't believe you have the right to restrict its display. I don't believe we need your permission."

Phippard told the Reformer Tuesday that he interpreted the ordinance as meaning flags with different colors and banners exclusively meant for advertising, and not American flags.

Also on Tuesday, Doug Cianfrocca, the owner of Area 51 Fireworks was overseeing the final touches on the store, which is located just east of the Connecticut River on Route 9.

He said his meetings with town officials have been cordial, but despite the zoning ordinance, he will fly his flags during the grand opening and in advance of the Fourth of July.

"I am going to display these flags on both sides of this building and if they wish to ticket me or give me a citation, then I will have to pay that fine; I will pay that price. But I am proud to be an American and it's an American right to raise the flag on a holiday — on Independence Day — and yes, I am going to fly the flags."

Cianfrocca said the members of the Chesterfield Planning Board and the town's agents have been "diligent, demanding and fair."

"They asked for something and we provided it as best we could and they gave us a fair result," he said. "This has been a long process. They have been strict."

Cianfrocca, who owns and operates two other Area 51 Fireworks stores — one in Pahrump, Nev., and the other in Fort Mill, S.C. — said the Chesterfield store is the first he has built from scratch, and at a cost "well in excess of" $3 million.

In the process of building the site, Cianfrocca has more than a 100 people working on this "labor-intensive process."

"We have reached out. Everyone we have done business with is from this community," he said. "From Scully Architects to the builder to the land planner. I am very, very proud to be part of this New Hampshire effort."

Cianfrocca, who hails from Newport Beach, Calif., said he decided to build his third fireworks store in Chesterfield because he has been following industry trends and knows New Hampshire's fireworks sales are very profitable. During visits to New Hampshire, he realized getting to the stores in Cheshire County was not as convenient as it could be. The Chesterfield site, just a stone's throw from the Connecticut River and less than a mile from Exit 3 of Interstate 91, was a prime location, he said.

The Chesterfield store is approximately 14,000 square feet of retail with another 4,000 or so square feet of storage. He plans to emply between 40 to 60 people during the six weeks prior to July Fourth and four to six people the rest of the year. "If you're 18 to 70 and you want to work, we are more than happy to have you. We pay more than the minimum wage."

During Monday night's Planning Board meeting, the board approved two storage containers on site. Phippard said Cianfrocca was concerned the internal storage space wouldn't be big enough to keep the shelves stocked in the weeks preceding July Fourth, and the last thing he wants it to have empty shelves in the store. The board also approved a change to the site's sign. Previously, the plan called for "Fireworks" to be part of the on-building signage, but the board approved a freestanding, internally lit sign that will be turned off when the store is closed.

One of the site requirements mandated by the town was below-ground cisterns to store hundreds of thousands of gallons of water for emergencies. That water will be shipped in by tanker truck. The culinary water for the site's water fountains, sinks and bathrooms will be supplied by an on-site well.

And even though Area 51 is located next to a New Hampshire State Liquor Store, Cianfrocca urged people to exercise caution when shooting off fireworks. "Alcohol and fireworks don't mix," he said.

Cianfrocca said he hopes to receive a certificate of occupancy from the town next week and hopes to begin hiring next week as well. The plan is to have the grand opening during the Memorial Day weekend, and he plans to fly his flags. "At our fireworks stores we always display the American flag because it's Independence Day. We are proud to be Americans, proud to be in this business and it's a fun business to be in."

Bob Audette can be contacted at 802-254-2311, ext. 160 Follow him on Twitter @audette.reformer.


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