CAPE ELIZABETH — A lawyer may soon clarify the town’s role in a long-running dispute between a shooting range and its neighbors.
So far, the town has skirted any involvement in licensing or regulating the Spurwink Rod & Gun Club, which has been a fixture on Sawyer Road since the 1960s. That stance could change, however.
Town Manager Michael McGovern said Wednesday that the town may hire Portland lawyer Kenneth Cole to sort out the town’s rights and responsibilities.
“We legitimately want independent advice,” McGovern said. “We want to make sure we’re right, whatever the law is.”
Seeds of the dispute were sown in the mid-1990s, when a housing development was built in the area now called Cross Hill. Strife between residents of the new neighborhood and the gun club began at least as far back as 1999, when more than 300 people signed a petition that sought to reduce the hours of operation at the shooting range, according to published reports.
A decade later, in September 2009, police investigated a report of a bullet lodged in the outer wall of a nearby home. It’s unknown if the bullet was fired from the gun range.
Potential problems were predicted well before home construction even began in the area. Issues of safety and noise were debated several times before the Planning Board, according to its minutes.
In August 1996, for example, Board Member Thomas Emery said he “wanted it to be clear to people buying into (the development) that they are buying into an existing condition with the Rod & Gun Club.”
In a 1996 memo, Town Planner Maureen O’Meara also wrote that “a note will be included in the deed for each lot that notes that the Rod & Gun Club is an abutter to (the development).”
But on Thursday, Town Assessor Matt Sturgis performed a search of several deeds for property in the neighborhood and found no such wording, he said.
A call to O’Meara was not immediately returned.
During the past year, police have handled few complaints about the shooting range, Police Chief Neil Williams said Wednesday.
But in late April, police responded to a report of shots fired about 20 minutes after sunset – a violation of the gun club’s policy. Police found a member at the range that evening and informed club leadership of the incident, Williams said. Several weeks later, in response to the violation, the club revoked the individual’s membership, according to the club’s Facebook page.
McGovern said the April incident had no bearing on the town’s decision to hire a lawyer. The town’s decision was based on a need to better understand the stubborn issue, he said.
Meanwhile, the town is encouraging both parties to work out the disagreement on their own.
Spurwink Rod & Gun Club member Richard Aspinall said the club met with residents recently, but wouldn’t say what was discussed. Club President Mark Mayone was unavailable for comment, and attempts to reach residents of Cross Hill were unsuccessful.
Last year, Cape Elizabeth attorney Jamie Wagner represented an anonymous Cross Hill resident in the dispute, but no longer represents anyone in the matter. Wagner joined the Town Council in November.
The council is planning to hold a meeting on the issue Sept. 5.
The Spurwink Rod & Gun Club was silent Wednesday afternoon, but residents in the nearby Cross Hill neighborhood have been at odds with the club for more than a decade over noise and safety issues. Soon the town may hire a lawyer to clarify its role in the dispute.