CAPE ELIZABETH — It’s a conflict that’s been brewing for more than a decade.
On one side, members of the Spurwink Rod & Gun Club are fighting to preserve their use of an outdoor shooting range that was permitted by the town nearly 60 years ago and has become a local landmark and social institution.
On the other side are residents of the pricey Cross Hill neighborhood, which grew up around the gun club over the past decade. They’re pushing town officials to address mounting noise and safety concerns, including claims that some houses have been hit by stray bullets.
On Monday evening, the Town Council will hold a public hearing on a proposed shooting range ordinance that would establish an oversight committee and annual licensing process for the current gun club and any future ranges that may be developed.
Neither side is happy about the proposal. Club members say it goes too far. Cross Hill residents say it doesn’t do enough. Both sides have a lot at stake.
Club members say their shooting range, located in a gully on the wooded outer reaches of Sawyer Road, is grandfathered and protected by state law, so they shouldn’t have to go through the licensing process.
They also say the club warned abutters and developers about their activities when the Cross Hill subdivision was proposed, so people shouldn’t have built or bought houses near an outdoor shooting range if they had concerns. And they question that anyone would spend $500,000 to $800,000 on a home without vetting surrounding properties, especially when residents of older nearby neighborhoods have complained about the noise in the past.
“It’s a frustrating issue and we’ve been revisiting it every 10 years for the last 30 years,” said former club president Mark Mayone of South Portland. “They purchased property near an existing shooting range, just like somebody who buys a house near an airport or a highway or some other noisy place.”
Some Cross Hill residents are club members, Mayone said, but they don’t advertise it to avoid conflict.
Club members say they’re trying to be good neighbors. They limit shooting times from 8 a.m. to an hour before sunset Monday through Saturday and starting at noon on Sundays. They also have invested $25,000 in security, safety and sound-dampening features in the past three years. They plan to install additional structures that would further deaden sound and block stray bullets, but they have to raise $87,000 to complete the work.
“If the Cross Hill residents want to contribute, we sure could use the help,” said Tammy Walter, club president, who lives on Sawyer Road.
Some Cross Hill residents say they have little faith in the club’s efforts. They say town officials have provided little to no oversight of the shooting range since it was established in 1955 and are ignoring a long-standing noise ordinance that should be applied since residential development has expanded.
Some of the homeowners also say they were misled by real estate agents who failed to tell them about the gun club or said it was inactive and about to close. Others say it doesn’t matter when they learned about the shooting range. The town must address the conflict now.
Deborah and Bill Hart purchased their house on Cross Hill Road 11 years ago. At the time, their three children were teenagers and there were about 10 kids in the whole neighborhood.
Now, there are more than 100 children, Deborah Hart estimates. She’s concerned about their safety and the fact that she and her husband can’t ever expect to enjoy their home or backyard in the daytime.
“The town has been complacent about this,” she said. “Kids are growing up with the sound of gunfire being normal, and it shouldn’t be. I can be in my house with the windows closed and headphones on and it sounds like there’s a war going on outside.”
Several other Cross Hill residents who sent letters to the town didn’t return calls for comment. One spoke off the record.
Club members say shooting ranges across the United States are facing similar scrutiny for a variety of reasons. Gun sales are up, so shooting ranges are busier. More people are home during the day because they can work from home or work night shifts. And developers increasingly build homes in rural, previously undesirable areas, which is where shooting ranges were located for obvious reasons.
Such is the case with the Spurwink club. When the clubhouse was built in 1956 at the edge of Sawyer Road, there wasn’t a house for two miles in either direction, said Andy Tabor, who lives in Cape Elizabeth.
Tabor has been going to the shooting range since he was a boy, when he tagged along with his father and Elmer Murray, a founding member of the club.
It’s where Tabor learned to respect firearms and handle them safely, and where he’s been a member since the late 1970s. Now 57, Tabor counts many of the club’s 300 members as friends. Membership is divided pretty evenly among Cape Elizabeth, South Portland and Scarborough residents, with a few from Portland and other Maine communities and some outside Maine, Mayone said.
Club members gather regularly for monthly supper meetings, educational lectures and shooting meets. The range is relatively quiet this time of year, with one to three members using it each day through the winter months. It’s busier May through November, especially before hunting season.
‘It’s a home to many of us,” Tabor said. “We’re not going anywhere.”
Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at: