TIVERTON — Neighbors took aim recently at a gun shop owner’s plan to build a shooting range on Main Road.
Gary Lebeau, owner/operator of Sakonnet River Outfitters, a gun shop at 404 Main Road in Tiverton, has plans to build an 8,000 square foot building on the west side of Main Road at the intersection of Haskins Avenue.
Over half of the building (4,500 square feet) would be an indoor shooting range. The rest would be retail space for a gun shop.
“I am going to build the building. I’m going to move my gun shop there, I’m going to move my retail business there,” Mr. Lebeau told the council Tuesday night, May 27.
“I’m hoping for a vote tonight,” Mr. Lebeau said.
Mr. Lebeau distributed a packet of information to council members from a private company in Provo, Utah (Action Target), that he indicated would build the shooting range. The company says it designs and manufactures shooting ranges “for law enforcement, military, and commercial ranges around the world.”
Mr. Lebeau’s proposal drew exchanging fire from opponents and supporters alike.
“I don’t want to be in my back yard and hearing a shooting range,” said Evangeline Jandro of 14 Springer Avenue. “My property is only 20 feet away from that fence,” she said referring to Mr. Lebeau’s intended gun range site.
“You only rent,” Mr. Lebeau replied to Ms. Jandro.
Tim Llewellyn of Tiverton said that the town needs business and there are not a lot of people willing to invest in the town. “I think it’s a hot topic. It’s a gun issue.”
“This shooting gallery is safer than a bar or a gas station,” he said. “We still have a right to bear arms — we still have that right.”
Robin Brow said she lives across the street and pointed out that there’s a bus stop at the corner where the shooting range would be located. “I have kids in that neighborhood. As a neighborhood, I would like the facts and would like more information.”
To Mr. Lebeau, she said, “You don’t really care about the neighborhood. You know this is a hot topic.” She said he should have gone to all the neighbors. “To me, it’s not transparent.”
Mr. Lebeau said he’d gone to some of the people in the neighborhood, but did not have time to go to all of them.
Jim Higham, who said he lives behind the area where the range would be built, asked, “has there been a study done on property values for a neighborhood behind a shooting range? I think you need to do a lot more thinking on this issue.”
Town Solicitor Andrew Teitz said there are two separate issues involved. One is whether the town zoning ordinance would permit a shooting range. The other is whether a license would be required in order to operate a shooting range.
On the first issue — the issue of zoning — Mr. Teitz and the Alternate Building Official/Zoning Officer (Rhett S. Bishop) appear to disagree. (Mr. Bishop holds the position temporarily while the town searches for a permanent replacement for Gareth Eames, the former zoning officer who retired recently.)
Mr. Teitz has said specific reference is needed in the zoning code to allow for a shooting range and that currently the Town’s Zoning Ordinance does not permit it, nor does the Code of Ordinances authorize it.
Mr. Bishop, however, says an indoor shooting range is impliedly part of “indoor commercial recreation,” which is allowed by the zoning categories General Commercial and Highway Commercial.
On the licensing issue, Mr. Teitz said, “I do believe the Town Council has been given the authority to license a shooting range or shooting gallery,” but that the town has not yet adopted a licensing ordinance with which it could license and condition such an activity.
After well over an hour of debate, the council took two votes on the gun range issue. By a vote of 6-1 (with Councilor Jay Lambert voting in favor on the losing side), the council declined to seek an amendment to the zoning ordinance that would clarify or specifically permit shooting ranges in the General Commercial and Highway Commercial Zones in the Town of Tiverton.
The failed vote thus leaves in place — on the issue of zoning — the discrepancy between the opinions of the town solicitor and the temporary zoning official.
On the issue of licensing, however, the council voted 5-2 (with Councilors Jim Arruda and Joan Chabot voting no) to ask the Town Solicitor and Town Administrator to draft an amendment to the town licensing ordinances to authorize the council to license and regulate shooting ranges.
The proposed amendment, once drafted, will return to the council for a review (possibly on June 23), and then the council will set a hearing date (possibly for July 28) for consideration of the final proposed shooting range licensing ordinance.
At the time the council reviews the proposed ordinance, it will also review a proposed form application for such a license.