Cape Elizabeth moves toward regulation of gun club

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CAPE ELIZABETH — The Town Council voted unanimously Monday to forward a draft of a shooting range ordinance to the Ordinance Committee for review.

The ordinance was written by attorney Kenneth Cole, who was hired by the town in June in response to an ongoing feud between residents of the Cross Hill subdivision and members of the Spurwink Rod and Gun Club, which has existed on Sawyer Road for more than 50 years.

The ordinance addresses permits, registration, compliance, maintenance, shot containment, noise mitigation and more.

“Based on the various safety and noise concerns raised by the neighbors, the ordinance contains specific management practices, hours of operation and liability insurance requirements,” Cole said in a letter to the council dated Nov. 22.

“However,” he said, “given the existing status of the Spurwink Rod and Gun Club, it also has considerable built-in flexibility with regard to the licensing requirements, and the time required to comply with them, including the ability of the Council, as the final party who would grant such a license, to extend time limits and grant other exceptions.”

The ordinance calls for the creation of a firing range committee to ensure compliance. It would include two councilors, one member of the gun club, one member of the public at large, and the town’s code enforcement officer. The police chief would serve as an ex-officio member.

Two residents supported the ordinance during a public comment period. Eric Frehm, of Cross Hill Road, cited a 1941 noise ordinance that predates the club.

“When did the council rule that this town’s loudest and most dangerous recreational activity just isn’t subject to our laws?” Frehm asked. “I haven’t found that you ever did. I think applicable law just hasn’t been applied, and I see that as an executive slip, not a legislative one. … It’s not the fault of our neighborhood that the club is too small and outmoded to contain its noise, vibration and, as an aside, its bullets.”

Mark Mayone, a resident of South Portland and the president of the gun club, read a letter from 1961, signed by three Cape Elizabeth selectmen and the chief of police, that documented the approval of the club’s establishment.

Mayone said the club officially adopted several new bylaws last week, including the outlawing of rapid fire and the creation of more formal penalties for members who break rules.

“We believe that if the town wants to have an ordinance governing firearms ranges or shooting ranges, we think it’s a great idea, except our club should be exempted,” he said. “Our belief is that we should be grandfathered in.”

Surfside Avenue trail

Earlier in Monday’s meeting, councilors held a public hearing on the 2013 update to the Greenbelt plan, which will have a formal council vote Jan. 6, 2014.

Almost all of the 10 people who spoke encouraged the council to adopt the plan and the controversial trail proposed for Surfside Avenue, a paper street that runs along the ocean and through several backyards in the Shore Acres neighborhood.

“Surfside Avenue was meant to be shared upon inception,” said Debra Murphy, of Pilot Point Road. “The founders of the Shore Acres land company set this beautiful piece of property aside in the spirit of a sharing community. There was in the design of Shore Acres the premise that exclusivity to the shorefront would not be allowed.”

Connie Pacillo, of Reef Road, said 321 residents have signed petitions in favor of the Surfside Avenue trail and 21 more have submitted letters to the council affirming their support.

Bob Stier, of Rock Crest Road, was the only dissenting voice.

“I hope the council won’t put too much weight in the number of people who sign petitions,” he said. “It’s easy for people to show up at the dump on a Saturday morning and go up to neighbors and ask them to sign things and present one point of view on an issue and then gather signatures without them really meaning a whole lot.”

Several residents urged the town not to “give away” the paper trail to Shore Acres homeowners, but after the hearing, Councilor Caitlin Jordan made an important distinction: “It’s technically not town-owned property as of today,” she said.

Library Building Committee

As expected, the council established a Library Building Committee and its working budget of almost $341,000.

Councilors Jim Walsh and Molly MacAuslan, who served this year as chairwoman of the Library Planning Committee, were elected to the committee. Chairwoman Jessica Sullivan appointed former Councilor Frank Governali to the committee as a member of the public. A School Board member and library trustee will round out the panel.

The committee’s budget was approved 6-1, with Jordan dissenting.

Councilors stated that in order to earn public approval for a $4 million library bond in November, the council would first have to spend the money to develop a fully realized library plan for the public to review.

If the bond fails, that money will be a sunk cost.

Jordan said she wasn’t sure if there is a better compromise, calling the situation a Catch-22, but said, “I do not believe in spending so much money on a project that has not been approved.”

Other business

On a night when the agenda included 33 items, the council voted unanimously to approve an amendment to the town’s signage ordinance that will give business owners more freedom to display flags and sandwich boards outside their stores. They’ll now be able to do so year-round, during business hours, for a one-time fee.

The council voted unanimously to forward the School Board’s request for a $1.75 million bond for school improvements to the Finance Committee. That committee is chaired by Walsh and includes every member of the council. It was unclear when the committee would take up the request.

The council also unanimously gave the Town Center Planning Committee a six-month extension, through June 2013, to complete its update of the 1993 town center plan.

Brendan Twist can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or Follow him on Twitter: @brendantwist.