2012-09-14 / Community

Gun club, residents need guidance to settle issues

By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer

CAPE ELIZABETH — When the Spurwink Rod and Gun Club opened on Sawyer Road in Cape Elizabeth more than five decades ago, there weren’t many neighbors to worry about.

But over time, that has changed.

Houses have continued to pop up throughout the years in the Cross Hill Road and Wells Road neighborhoods, and the club is now surrounded by a residential neighborhood with families that consistently stream in.

That has caused friction between nearby neighbors and the club. The issues came to a head, according to Cape Elizabeth lawyer Jamie Wagner, when a bullet was found in the siding of a nearby house directly under a child’s bedroom window. Wagner said police believe that bullet came from the club.

At a Cape Elizabeth Town Council workshop on Wednesday, Sept. 5, councilors listened to representatives from the gun club and residents in the hope of guiding the two parties toward a compromise.

A consensus was reached after input from both parties and the town council to have an independent and objective professional observe the club and recommend changes to ensure the safety of nearby residents.

After the club and representatives agree on who will perform that review, they will return to the town council at the Wednesday, Oct. 10 workshop with a status report. Wagner felt it was important to have a review from “a professional in gun range safety.”

While club President Mark Mayon agreed to go forward with the plan, he warned that route may not achieve the result neighbors intend.

“We might be forced into following an exact template rather than being more responsive to our neighbors, and that might make everyone angrier at us,” Mayon said.

Whatever the final outcome of the talks, the town council encouraged both sides to speed up the negotiation progress to find a compromise soon.

“You’ve made progress because you were talking to each other, but at the end of the day, we’ve got to have something significant,” said Councilor Jim Walsh.

Wagner said the issues between the club and its neighbors first came about nearly a year ago. But after informal talks went nowhere, he brought it to the attention of the town council in March with a letter that urged the council to schedule a public hearing.

“Certainly, the club enjoys certain freedoms pursuant to state and federal laws. Nonetheless, the club does not have the right to needlessly endanger the citizens of this town,” Wagner wrote in the letter. “Further, the municipal government of this town has the duty to protect its citizenry from clearly dangerous conditions within the physical limits of the town.”

Neighborhood residents and club representatives did meet once since then, in May, but the two parties seem to have come away with different interpretations of that meeting.

Mayon said members of the club were prepared to put up a fence surrounding the shooting range that would keep anyone from accidentally wandering onto the club’s property, but the club decided to hold off the work because Mayon wasn’t sure if that safety measure would be enough to satisfy area residents.

Wagner, meanwhile, assumed the club would start working on the fence right after the meeting. He echoed the desire of many councilors to quickly move along discussions.

“There has to be a little more urgency than what we’ve seen so far,” Wagner said.

Mayon said the club has worked for three years to implement a plan that would add more modern safety measures, which has been “rolling” independently of discussions with neighbors.

The new security measures would include what Mayon called a “no blue sky” baffle system that would surround a shooter and prevent errant misfires that may pose a safety threat to nearby houses. He also said the club has recently installed security cameras and keypad access so it is known exactly who is in the club at all times.

Council Chairman Sara Lennon raised the possibility that the club could move to a less densely populated area either elsewhere in Cape Elizabeth or in a nearby town, but neither the club representatives nor her fellow councilors expressed much support for the idea.

Lennon said the club is located on “a huge piece of valuable land” in Cape Elizabeth, and noted with turnover in the neighborhood, the issue of security and noise is likely to resurface with new residents. The total value of the club’s property, located at 1250 Sawyer Road, is $251,800 according to the town assessor’s office website.

But Mayon said that many of the club’s 300 members are from the area and some grew up in Cape Elizabeth.

“Asking the club to move is not a productive discussion line,” said Councilor Jessica Sullivan, and she asked the council to focus its efforts to “proceed along obvious attempts to further ensure safety.”

Many residents said they were primarily concerned about noise from the club. One resident said she did not know the club was nextdoor when she moved in and wakes up in the morning thinking she lives “next to a war zone.”

Another neighbor floated the possibility of the club restricting its weekend hours to provide the neighbors some respite, but Mayon said weekends are the only times some members can come to the club. Despite those noise concerns from the few dozen members of the public assembled, progress at the workshop was mostly limited to safety improvements.

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