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Stress builds between Cape Elizabeth gun club and neighbors

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Stress builds between Cape Elizabeth gun club and neighbors

CAPE ELIZABETH — Nestled into a hollow off Sawyer Road, the Spurwink Rod and Gun Club has been a meeting spot for target shooters for about 56 years.

On Monday, town councilors decided tensions between the club and some neighbors in a newer residential neighborhood built beyond the woods surrounding the club have reached a level requiring a discussion.

Councilors unanimously agreed to hold a workshop on the matter, but no date has been set.

The request for a review of "safety conditions" at the club's gun range came from local lawyer Jamie Wagner, who told councilors he represents a client living in the Cross Hill neighborhood.

The client remains anonymous, but Wagner said more neighbors are expected to be heard from.

He said closing the club is not their goal.

"That is just straight wrong. That is not the intent here, its about safety," Wagner told councilors.

Club President Mark Mayon disputed the assertion in his response to councilors and after the meeting.

"When (Wagner's) letter is read, there is no way that anyone could think anything else," Mayone said.

Mayon said the club, with about 300 members, predates much of the home construction in the area by about 35 years.

"We want to listen to our neighbors, but we have a right to be here," he said. "I don't think anyone gets anywhere when it gets adversarial."

Wagner cited "stray bullets ... found in the densely populated neighborhood abutting the club," as a reason to have the workshop and a public hearing. He also suggested town officials should check into environmental conditions at the club.

Cape Elizabeth Police Chief Neil Williams this week said police responded to only one incident, in September 2009, where a bullet was found in the side of a nearby home. Williams said it remains unclear where the bullet was fired.

"Just because of the proximity of the gun range to the house the officer felt it was likely the bullet came from the range, but there is no concrete proof that it did," Williams said in an email.

Wagner, however, said there were two complaints to police about stray rounds found in the neighborhood "and dozens of other types of complaints."

Williams said he knew of other complaints about noise from shooting after the range was closed for the evening. The town does not license or regulate any club activities, Williams and Town Manager Michael McGovern said.

The club range is open from 8 a.m to sunset Monday through Saturday and noon to sunset on Sundays.

At the meeting, Cardinal Lane resident Mark Membrino said he made one of the complaints about a stray round.

Membrino spoke up after club member and former Cape Elizabeth resident Ben Black recalled tensions between the club and neighbors 20 years ago that resulted in nails scattered in the club parking lot and a phony account of a stray round striking a home.

"My house actually was struck by a bullet and I can assure you I didn't plant it," Membrino said.

Membrino said he and his family have lived in their home for four years and knew the club existed before before they built on their land.

"There is no proving (the bullet) came from the range," he said, adding his home is in an elevated firing line from the club.

Membrino said he is not always happy about noise at the club, but viewed that as a lesser matter.

Mayon said Membrino's complaint has been a constant topic at the club for a variety of reasons.

"We don't want to be known as the ones who sent a round into the neighborhood," he said.

He said the incident is also discussed because the club increased the size of earthen berms behind targets before the incident. The back of the range features a height of about 45 feet, and the woods beyond could make it difficult for an errant round from the range to reach the nearby neighborhood.

Mayon said the club is working to keep things safe for its members and neighbors.

'We've spent untold thousands of dollars just within the last year to ensure we have a member-specific ID for everyone coming down on to the range. We've spent a large amount of money on surveillance for our club," he told councilors.

Wagner said he was retained about a year ago, and spoke with McGovern and Williams before approaching the club and its lawyer.

"I think the town needs to consider its own liability with regard to the safety of its citizens," Wagner said. "This is not an anti-sportsman issue. This is not an anti-gun issue."

Wagner said good first steps for safety at the club include fencing off the rear of club property and adding structures to deflect errant rounds back to the ground.

Mayon, a father of two, said the woods beyond the club are well posted and parents should educate their children about where the club is, much as they would teach them not to play in the street.

Relations between club members and neighbors also reached a difficult point in 1999, when more than 300 residents signed a petition seeking a reduction in shooting range hours and a review of environmental conditions due to lead from expended ammunition.

Wagner suggested town officials look into environmental conditions again, but Mayon said he and members think the idea "is a non-issue" because of a study done 13 years ago.

He also said club members are discussing more changes, but the scope and timing are contingent on how the upcoming workshop and relationship with neighbors plays out.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow David on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Cardinal Lane, Cape Elizabeth, Maine