CAPE ELIZABETH – The Cape Elizabeth Town Council on Monday granted an exception to the town’s shooting range ordinance that allows the 60-year-old Spurwink Rod & Gun Club to move forward with upgrades to its facility on Sawyer Road in order to improve safety and reduce noise impacts on neighbors.

Under the new exception, Code Enforcement Officer Ben McDougal has the authority to issue building permits to the gun club prior to submission and approval of a license application, if a range safety evaluation is performed “at the request and expense of the town,” said Councilor David Sherman.

According to the shooting range ordinance, before the club can receive its building permits, a completed safety evaluation must first be reviewed and approved by the town’s firing range committee.

Gun club members have been trying to address noise and safety complaints made by neighbors of the abutting Cross Hill Road subdivision since the mid-1990s. Escalating concerns led the town to create and adopt a shooting range ordinance earlier this year, which requires the gun club to register and apply for a license.

The club submitted its registration and site plan to the town by the July 10 deadline, 90 days after the new shooting range ordinance took effect. It also has up to a year to find solutions for shot containment and noise mitigation and to meet other ordinance requirements.

At Monday’s meeting, the Town Council decided to hire and pay for an independent expert safety evaluator to review and approve the new shooting range design, which is required before the building permits can be issued. According to Town Manager Michael McGovern, the process of finding an appropriate evaluator and determining the cost was set to begin Sept. 9.

“Should it turn out that the safety evaluation comes back negatively and what (the gun club) has done is not good, then they’re going to have spent a lot of money; more money if the safety evaluation requires them to do something else,” said Councilor Caitlin Jordan. “It’s a risk they’re going to have to take.”

Without making exceptions to the town’s firing range ordinance, Jordan said, “The firing range (issue) is going around in circles. They can’t make improvements until they get an application, and they can’t get an application until they make improvements. This exception is needed to put the building permits in place, make the improvements, and get the (license) application through.”

Club members also hope to be approved for a $28,000 grant from the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife for the improvements, which was delayed after a Cross Hill Road neighbor raised additional concerns about the grant application and how the club plans to address noise and safety.

The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife has scheduled a site walk of the shooting range for Sept. 11 before it can issue the grant money to the gun club. The firing range committee has also requested that the club hire a wetlands specialist to flag the edges of the shooting range and add it to the site plan. The gun club must also conduct a sound contour study before it gets its building permits.

“Our plan is to move forward with construction as soon as possible,” said the club President Tammy Walter.

Councilor Jamie Wagner said the firing range committee, which he chairs, requested an exception to the ordinance in order for the gun club to begin construction this fall.

“It’s a timing issue because we live in a cold weather zone,” he said. “Soon the ground will be too hard to commence construction. The ordinance permits the Town Council to grant exceptions based on hardship.”

“If we don’t allow the firing range to make improvements, then it would make it very difficult indeed for such a range to ever achieve shot containment,” Wagner said.

At Monday’s meeting, neighbors of the gun club raised additional concerns and questions about the gun club’s operations.

John Baldwin said he was against giving the club an exception to the ordinance to begin building its safety walls for shot containment.

“We need a little more time to work out our differences,” Baldwin said. “We might be able to find a solution that is best for all. If we rush to build, that won’t provide any benefit to the club or the residents.”

Resident Edward Nadeau, who lives in the Cross Hill Road neighborhood, said, “the homes of our neighborhood were built in accordance with residential zoning rules and regulations. I just want to know why we don’t have the same rights as other homeowners in town to (have) peace and quiet in our homes?”

Nadeau said he wondered why the Cross Hill subdivision was built next to an existing “unregulated” shooting range in the first place.

“To me, it’s a contradiction,” he said.

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