CAPE ELIZABETH — The Town Council unanimously approved a shooting range ordinance Monday night that members said will create a safer community, especially for residents of the Cross Hill neighborhood who raised safety and noise concerns about the Spurwink Rod & Gun Club.
Councilors noted they were caught between two passionate factions, feeling vilified while trying to reconcile long-standing community concerns and recognizing that neither side would be wholly satisfied with the outcome.
“We’re in new territory here,” Councilor James Walsh said. “If no one’s happy, you probably did the right thing.”
The ordinance allows the town to establish an oversight committee and annual licensing process that would apply to the outdoor shooting range at the Spurwink club, currently the only range in town, and any future ranges that may be developed.
The shooting range was permitted by the town and built in a wooded gully in the outer reaches of Sawyer Road nearly 60 years ago, when its nearest neighbors were sprawling farms. Under town ordinance, the Spurwink club pays no property taxes on its 18-acre parcel because it is a social club, town officials said.
Cross Hill is a neighborhood of $500,000 to $800,000 homes that grew up around the club in the last decade, though other neighbors have complained about noise over the last 30 years. In recent years, some Cross Hill residents pushed town officials to address mounting noise and safety concerns, including claims that some houses have been hit by stray bullets.
State law doesn’t require shooting ranges to be licensed and prohibits towns from enacting noise ordinances that would apply to existing shooting ranges, said Kenneth Cole, the town’s lawyer for this issue.
The council stipulated in the shooting range ordinance that the licensing process will include a professional range safety evaluation to ensure that it meets National Rifle Association standards.
The council voted following a public hearing that drew about 100 people; about 20 spoke on the issue.
Club members said their shooting range is permitted, grandfathered and protected by state law, so they shouldn’t have to go through the licensing process.
Herbert Dennison, a charter member, said he didn’t see “any reason to suddenly have to license” the shooting range, while member Lucas Homicz said he’d “never seen an unsafe act” at the club.
Club members said they’ve invested $25,000 in security, safety and sound-dampening features in the past three years and plan to make another $87,000 in improvements.
Cross Hill residents said they have little faith in the club’s efforts. They said town officials have provided little oversight of the shooting range since it was established in 1955, though it was noted during the evening that town police use the range. Residents said shooting has increased in recent years, including what sounds like semi-automatic weapons.
Among the Cross Hill residents who spoke, Bobbie Manson said “it’s not acceptable to have bullets coming into the neighborhood” and Daniel Price suggested that councilors were “not concerned with keeping (children) safe.”
Whether the ordinance will work is “to be determined,” Cross Hill resident James Richard said after the vote. “I don’t want their rights violated, but I don’t want our rights violated, either.”
Tammy Walter, president of the Spurwink club, said it remains to be seen how her organization will weather the licensing process, including additional liability insurance, the added costs of a professional safety assessment, and any required improvements to the shooting range.
“It’s going to be OK,” Walter said after the vote. “We’re going to work with the town.”
The club has one year to submit a completed license application.