2014-03-14 / Front Page

Cape pulls trigger on shooting range ordinance

By Duke Harrington
Contributing Writer


James Richard, elected to speak on behalf of his neighbors in the Cross Hill subdivision, addresses the Cape Elizabeth Town Council on Monday, voicing dissatisfaction with a proposed shooting range ordinance, which he said does not go far enough to regulate the Spurwink Rod & Gun Club. Nearly 100 people on both sides of the issue attended the public hearing, after which the council passed the ordinance 6-0. (Duke Harrington photo) James Richard, elected to speak on behalf of his neighbors in the Cross Hill subdivision, addresses the Cape Elizabeth Town Council on Monday, voicing dissatisfaction with a proposed shooting range ordinance, which he said does not go far enough to regulate the Spurwink Rod & Gun Club. Nearly 100 people on both sides of the issue attended the public hearing, after which the council passed the ordinance 6-0. (Duke Harrington photo) CAPE ELIZABETH — Not once, not twice, but three times Monday, members of the Cape Elizabeth Town Council said if both sides of an issue are unhappy with its work, they must be doing something right.

Based then on pubic reaction to a proposed shooting range ordinance, the council must be doing something very right, indeed.

On Monday, nearly 100 people attended a public hearing on the ordinance, designed to calm a long-simmering dispute between the 57-year-old Spurwink Rod & Gun Club, located at 1250 Sawyer Road, and its neighbors in the Cross Hill subdivision, who began populating the area in the 1990s. For residents, it’s a question of noise and – following reports of bullets found lodged in houses – safety. But for the club’s 300-some-odd members, the question of how to get along really hinges on one key point:

“The people of Cross Hill, not to denigrate them, but knew (the gun club) was there when they moved in,” said Herb Dennison of Spurwink Avenue, a charter member of the club.

“If they didn’t, they should be seeing their Realtors,” he said

The shooting range ordinance was adopted 6-0, with Councilor Jamie Wagner forced to recuse himself because, as an attorney, he was involved in the issue prior to his 2012 election.

Club members and their supporters said the ordinance, which creates a licensing requirement for shooting ranges and establishes a five-person committee to review applications, is an overreaction by the town to a few vocal neighbors.

While the ordinance respects state and federal limits on the regulation of firearms and the noise they create — the town itself exempted shooting ranges in a 1941 noise ordinance, adopted nearly 15 years before the town council approved the creation of the Spurwink Club — it does speak to specific management practices.These include hours of operation and liability insurance requirements, to which the gun club must adhere, all of which would place new financial burdens on the cashstrapped club.

“I’ve never seen an unsafe act at the gun club,” said Lucas Homicz of Broad Cove Road. “I ask that the town council consider the precedent of getting involved in what seems to be a very localized neighborhood dispute. This is one neighborhood association against a gun club, which, from what I have observed, has always been very responsible.

However, in addition to a popular perception that noise from the club is getting louder and more frequent — detractors often cite a belief that semiautomatic weapons are being shot off cowboy style, which club members deny — neighbors are also concerned about safety. On that count, they say, the ordinance does not go nearly far enough.

“The town’s sign ordinance has stronger language about public safety,” said Bobbie Manson of Cardinal Lane, who claimed her home was one of three struck by a bullet in recent years.

“It’s not acceptable to have bullets coming into the neighborhood and I want your help to fix it,” she told the council.

Police Chief Neil Williams said after Monday’s meeting that one bullet was found lodged in a Cross Hill home in 2005 and two in 2009. However, he said his department was never able to determine how long ago those bullets were fired, or what direction and distance they might have come from.

Even so, residents have been spooked ever since, and have derided improvement efforts at the club, including a perimeter fence and a homemade sound wall, as not nearly adequate for their collective peace of mind.

“I’ve heard the gun club say they are going to continue to make improvements,” said Ralph Romano III, of Tiger Lily Lane. “Well, I think that’s an admission that there are improvements to be made, that the standards they are operating under are insufficient.”

Romano said he was unmoved by pleas of poverty by the club, which has called on the presumably affluent residents of the Cross Hill neighborhood to kick in to support safety upgrades. However, one Cross Hill resident, Rich Moran, actually pulled $20 out of his wallet and handed it to club President Tammy Walter.

Meanwhile, another Cross Hill Road resident, Cathy Kline, faulted the club for failing to release noise and safety reports prepared last year. Former club president Mark Mayon has acknowledged that the report, prepared to standards of the National Rifle Association, did include “some areas of improvement.” It has not been released, he said, for fear neighbors “will use it against us.”

Mayon said the club has a five-year plan to install noise muffling walls and a system of baffles known as “no blue sky” that will prevent shooters from discharging weapons into the air from the firing line.

Following the close of Monday’s public hearing, the council voted unanimously to require a safety report as part of the new licensing process. Previously, the question of whether to require a report was to be left to the new firing range licensing committee, according to attorney Kenneth Cole of Portland law firm Jenson Baird, hired by the town last fall to draft the proposal.

Although an acceptable noise level of 65 decibels measured 1,000 feet from the firing line is applicable only to any new firing range, or an expansion at the Spurwink Club, it is not grandfathered from the general rules, and must now be applied for as part of a town license within six months.

The decision caps more than three years of active animosity between the gun club and its neighbors, which erupted in 2012 when Wagner, now a town councilor, tried to get the town to intervene on behalf of an unnamed Cross Hill client.

After two attempts to encourage a cooperative agreement proved fruitless, the council hired Cole in September.

Since then, Councilors have been inundated by emails from both sides of the issue that have questioned their character.

“We’ve been called a lot of things by a lot of people,” said Councilor James Walsh. “We’ve been called disingenuous. We’ve been called cowards. We’ve been called just about every name in the book.”

“We’ve had one side say we’re going way too far and the other saying we’re not going nearly far enough,” said Councilor David Sherman. “If I thought everyone didn’t want the ordinance enacted for the same reason, I might have been inclined to vote against it. As often happens, for better or worse up here on the town council, we often find a middle ground that satisfies no one.”

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