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Cape Elizabeth shooting range regulations don't please club or its neighbors

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Cape Elizabeth shooting range regulations don't please club or its neighbors

CAPE ELIZABETH — Although the Town Council unanimously approved an ordinance intended to regulate the Spurwink Rod and Gun Club, there was little sense of resolution or satisfaction Monday among people who packed Town Hall.

Many Cross Hill subdivision residents said the ordinance doesn't go far enough to address their long-running noise and safety concerns.

And club members objected to a new licensing mandate, saying required elements, such as a site plan, will financially strain the nearly 60-year-old organization.

Maine law does not require shooting ranges to be licensed, said attorney Ken Cole, who was hired by the town to draft the ordinance.

The ordinance creates noise standards and requires all shots to be contained in the range. It covers licensing, background checks, municipal hearings, range changes and expansions, enforcement remedies, civil penalties and more.

The club now has 90 days to submit the site plan and make reasonable efforts to achieve shot containment.

Councilors defended the ordinance and the process that led to its creation.

"I think the Town Council has acted responsibly and respectfully to all parties," Chairwoman Jessica Sullivan said. "I think we have produced something that is balanced and fair. Maine is a hunting and fishing state, it's a rural state, and Second Amendment rights are protected by state statutes and federal laws, and we have worked very hard to be mindful of those, but also to understand that there are neighbors that are worried. And so I think we've addressed that. I think this is an excellent beginning."

Now there is likely to be plenty of work, and mediation, to do for a new shooting range committee, which was created under the ordinance.

The five-member committee will include two town councilors, one member of the Spurwink club (an NRA member, to be chosen by the gun club), and two members of the public, to be chosen by the council. One of the public members must be a certified firearms instructor, who need not live in Cape Elizabeth (a provision designed to balance the committee in the event that all the town's registered firearms instructors are also members of the Spurwink club). One of the public members will likely come from Cross Hill.

The committee will review Spurwink's license application, develop regulations for the club, and hear related complaints.

"It just seems like we're leaving quite a bit open down the line to be determined by the firing range committee," Councilor Caitlin Jordan said.

During a public hearing Monday, 22 residents took to the podium. They mainly rehashed familiar arguments in the long-running feud between the club and its neighbhors: that the council isn't doing enough to protect children, Cross Hill residents should've known what to expect when they moved in next to a gun club, reports of stray bullets striking homes, etc.

Several people argued that exceptions for hardship could make the ordinance toothless and keep the club from complying.

Club President Tammy Walter pointed to sound and safety improvements the club has made in recent years and extensive plans for future improvements as evidence that the ordinance is unnecessary. She then solicited the community for financial donations to help speed up the renovation process. 

One resident whose voice was heard was Cathy Kline, who noted that the public has no proof that the club meets NRA safety standards – or any standards, really.

Before passing the ordinance, the council unanimously passed an amendment requiring a professional safety range evaluation as part of the licensing process.

"Chances are the application for a gun club license will likely happen once in the history of Cape Elizabeth," Councilor David Sherman said. "I haven't foreseen that we're going to have a lot of gun clubs applying for licenses. And that has been the focus of many of the commentators, that it needs to have this evaluation."

Cross Hill resident Rich Moran said the ordinance, despite feeling like a lose-lose proposition, was probably the best option for everyone.

"I've reluctantly come to a conclusion that you should pass this ordinance," Moran said. "It's not perfect. It never will be. ... But to me it forms a basis for working on a relationship between the club and the neighborhood."

He then handed Walter a $20 bill – a donation for safety improvements, and a sign of good faith.

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