BRUNSWICK — Following complaints about a shooting range on Woodland Drive, the Town Council is looking into ways to reduce the noise – despite its limited power to regulate private ranges.
At a Sept. 6 meeting, Councilor John Perreault said he received “many complaints” about noise from residents who live near a shooting range in the Rocky Hill area; they reportedly have to listen for hours to the sound of gunfire coming from a non-commercial range on Woodland Drive, off River Road.
The permit holder is Kyle Green, 33, whose mother owns the property.
A recent amendment to a state statute prohibits towns from enforcing any ordinance that restricts activities at sport shooting ranges, so it is unclear what town officials can do to stop or restrict the activity, according to town attorney Kristin Collins.
In Brunswick’s case, this means as long as the operators of a range have a permit from the Police Department, the town is unable to enforce its noise or weapons ordinance, no matter how disruptive the sound may be to nearby residents. The weapons ordinance allows permit-holders to shoot from 8 a.m.-8 p.m. “or sunset, if earlier.”
There are 11 registered shooting ranges in Brunswick, according to police Cmdr. Mark Waltz. A town ordinance obligates the department to inspect and approve non-commercial sport shooting ranges on an annual basis, and, Waltz said, “as long as you can show that it’s a safe place to have one, you can get a town permit easily.”
To qualify as a “safe place,” Sec. 17-15 of the town’s weapons ordinance states that “the site must have an adequate backstop which may be: A natural pit, gully or depression of sufficient depth and density so as to prevent the escape of any bullet or ricocheted bullet from the immediate area with consideration for the caliber of firearm being discharged; or, a manmade structure” that achieves the same purpose.
Additionally, Sec. 17-3 states that “no person shall discharge a firearm within one hundred (100) yards of a residential dwelling without the permission of the owner or, in the owner’s absence, an adult occupant of that dwelling, except in a licensed shooting gallery or at a target practice site.”
A resident of Woodland Drive painted a picture at the Sept. 6 meeting of what it is like to live with the frequent sound of gunfire.
“I’m a hunter; I own guns, and I’m not in the habit of keeping people from doing things they love to do,” Al Goryeb said, “(but the the noise is) an intrusion… You can’t can’t get away from it.”
He said the noise began last fall and varies from the sound of target practice to “rapid-fire” shooting. “It goes on for hours sometimes,” he said.
Goryeb also brought up concerns about the value of his property. He said his “chances of selling are going away because of (the shooting),” and that he would feel morally obligated to tell any potential buyer about the nearby range.
As of Tuesday morning, Green said he had only received one anonymous complaint about noise in the form of a note left on his car windshield, which he found after a three-hour shooting session last Saturday. In a phone interview, he said he had not been contacted by any town councilors.
Green confirmed that he uses the range about once a week in good weather for sessions that last between one and three hours. The range is in a 130-acre, heavily wooded lot with the nearest houses about 700 feet perpendicular to the line of fire, Green said.
“The note rubbed me the wrong way, personally,” he said, because it was anonymous. It accused him of interfering with the author’s sleep for the last two days, he said, and “left a very sarcastic ‘thanks.'”
“We can’t talk if I don’t know who they are,” he said. “I’m willing to hear their case; I don’t think I’m unreasonable that way.”
While Perreault said he hasn’t reach out to Green, he did speak with Town Manager John Eldridge last week about the possible next steps. “We haven’t figured out a game plan,” he said by phone after the meeting.
However, Perreault said neighbors have the ability to move forward through private litigation, which wouldn’t involve the town. Because the range was established in the last year, Perreault said they have five years to bring a noise disturbance case against the operator of the range.
He declined to offer his opinion about the outcome litigation may produce, since he isn’t a lawyer.
As far as the town passing any restrictions, Collins said the issue is “a tricky situation” and the town will “have to tread lightly.” She later elaborated that the town’s powers to regulate the noise are unclear because the intent of the state statute is ambiguous.
Collins was unable to say why gun-related noise had special protections, but said she didn’t think the protections existed to give gun owners special privileges.
Rather, she described the recent amendment as “a unique example of a law that was tailored” in response to a local issue; specifically, a recent situation involving a private gun club in Cape Elizabeth.
“I think everyone wants to look at this issue afresh,” she said.
But Perreault said he hopes the neighbors can find a way to coexist without involving the courts. He said he also hopes to facilitate “a logical conversation” between the parties.
To an extent, that option has already worked.
Green said he has an arrangement with one of his neighbors, whom he texts before shooting so she can take her dog inside.
But while he is “not completely adverse” to the idea of coordinating his shooting schedule with his neighbors, Green said he worries about an outcome that will preclude him from shooting at all, given that his available time to shoot often overlaps with when his neighbors get home after work.
“I’ve been annoyed by sounds,” he said, referring to the fact that he lived next door to Bowdoin College students, who can sometimes be noisy “party animals.”
“I’m more freedom-minded, and I don’t want to impede other people’s lifestyles,” he said.
Perreault, meanwhile, said he is interested in becoming involved in the review process and site walk for the range’s upcoming annual inspection, which, according to the Police Department, is scheduled for Sept. 21.