2013-09-13 / Front Page

Neighbors remain unhappy with club

By Jack Flagler
Staff Writer

CAPE ELIZABETH – For more than a year, members of the Spurwink Rod and Gun Club have been in talks with residents of the nearby Cross Hill neighborhood, working to come to a mutual agreement that would alleviate neighbors’ concerns related to safety and noise while protecting members’ ability to enjoy the club.

Individuals on both sides of the dispute told the Cape Elizabeth Town Council at a workshop Sept. 5 they are not happy with the way talks have progressed.

Nearby residents say their concerns are not being addressed in a reasonably efficient manner, while club members told the council significant improvements have been made, but they believe some neighbors are implacable.

An audience of about 100 people attended the meeting, roughly split between the two sides. Each of the seats in the Cape Elizabeth Town Hall were filled, forcing some audience members to stand in the doorway or on the stairway looking over the chambers.

Cathy Kline, who lives on Cross Hill Road, told the council safety at the club is her primary concern.

“At the rate we’re going, we’ve taken such baby steps in how we’re going to move forward. Our fear is someone could get hurt in the interim,” Kline said.

Two Cape Elizabeth residents, Carolyn Flaherty of Cross Hill Road and Mark Membrino of Cardinal Lane, addressed the council to say their homes were both struck by bullets they believe came from the gun club. Both Membrino and Flaherty said they wanted to hear concrete proof from club members that their concerns were being addressed.

Many residents, including Liam McCoy of Chesterwood Road, told the council they had no problem with gun ownership or the concept of a gun club, but take issue only with what they say are increasingly disturbing noise levels.

“I don’t care if it’s a marching band down there making noise. Our right of enjoying our property has been taken away. It’s been ripped away from us,” McCoy said. “We want to come together to be good neighbors and have something that’s going to work out for everybody.”

However, representatives from the club say they have done plenty to make sure those who fire on the range are doing so safely and making efforts to reduce noise. Dave Herzer, a Leighton Farm Road resident and club member, said he has noticed concrete blocks covered with sound-absorbing materials for bullets fired on the range as well as signs that remind members of the club’s safety and noise regulation rules.

Mark Mayon, president of the Spurwink Rod and Gun Club, said members feel “stabbed in the back” by a group of neighbors acting out of “buyer’s remorse” rather than actual safety concerns.

“We feel the well has been poisoned by a small minority of the neighbors who do not want to work with the club,” Mayon told the council.

“We’re kind of angry, actually, about what we’ve seen the last few weeks. We really feel as though we’ve been taken advantage of,” he continued.

Tom Brady of Poplar Lane took issue with Mayon’s interpretation. Brady was one of 76 residents who signed a petition to council Chairman James Walsh calling for the council to mandate an independent audit and engineering improvements to guarantee safety and to reduce noise pollution.

“This has nothing to do with property values. It has everything to do with quality of life. I have nothing against guns, it’s not buyer’s remorse and it’s not greed. It’s about living in a community where I could enjoy my property and my peace,” Brady said.

The Spurwink Rod and Gun Club has offered members a controlled setting to shoot firearms for more than 50 years on Sawyer Road. However, as housing developments have sprung up around the club in the Cross Hill Road and Wells Road areas, the population of the area has become more dense, leading to the friction between homeowners and club members.

To find a resolution, the town council decided to hire Kenneth Cole, an attorney with Portland law firm Jensen Baird Gardner & Henry. Cole will meet with both parties in what he called a “mediation” role to negotiate a fair compromise. He then plans to reconvene with the council to inform them of any agreement and suggest any town action.

Cole began Thursday’s workshop with a brief presentation to inform the council of its ability to regulate the gun club under the rules established by state and federal statutes. In his written opinion provided to the council before the workshop, Cole noted club members’ rights are protected by the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution establishing citizens’ right to bear arms, but the club’s rights go beyond the federal protection.

Maine law, he wrote, protects gun clubs from private suits if the club was established before the individual’s property was built, and a separate statute prohibits municipalities from passing a noise control ordinance to limit ongoing activities at a shooting range.

“Thus, such facilities are essentially grandfathered in for purpose of noise control,” Cole wrote.

However, municipalities do have some authority to govern the activities of a shooting range. Cole told the council Thursday they could “for public health and safety reasons” adopt an ordinance that deals with certain limitations such as hours of operation, licensing and police inspections.

Scarborough is one of three southern Maine towns with an ordinance that regulates firearms on its books. The ordinance establishes a five-member firing range committee, including the chief of police, a councilor and a member of the gun club. The committee is responsible for establishing rules and regulations, as well as performing inspections of clubs in town.

Councilor Jamie Wagner, an attorney who represented a Cross Hill neighborhood resident before he was a councilor, opened the workshop by asserting he should be involved in the discussion process because he had cut ties to his client and considered his opinion objective. However, the council voted 4-2 with Councilors Frank Governali and Caitlin Jordan opposed to recuse Wagner from the process to avoid the appearance of bias.

The council formally approved the decision to retain Cole to assist in a resolution between both parties at its meeting Monday, Sept. 9. Cole will return to the council with a report by Monday, Dec. 2.

Want to comment on this story? Login to our website at sentry.mainelymediallc.com and let us know your thoughts.

Return to top