Crowd expected for Tiverton gun range debate
TIVERTON — The stage is set next Tuesday, Aug. 12 at 7 p.m. for a duel between people with sharply competing views about a proposed town ordinance that would regulate gun and shooting ranges in Tiverton.
Because of the expected crowd, the council hearing on the ordinance has been scheduled for the high school auditorium. The audience at Tuesday's hearing is likely to include those who support the idea of a gun shop and shooting range proposed for Main Road, those who oppose that specific idea or shooting ranges in town generally, and supporters of the Tiverton Rod and Gun Club on Fish Road.
The proposed draft ordinance reflects a six-month effort by Town Solicitor Andrew Teitz to address issues raised by Randy Lebeau's proposal to build the gun shop/shooting range on Main Road.
Among its provisions, the proposed ordinance would:
• Create a framework for the orderly and safe operation of any shooting galleries in town;
• Require licensing and regulation of shooting ranges;
• Defines 15 terms, including firearms, firing line, shooting gallery, structure, surface danger zone, target, and so forth;
• Sets design requirements and hours of operation, with secured access during operating hours;
• Sets development requirements, such as setback (300 feet from property line), distance from occupied dwelling (2,640 feet, except lawfully pre-existing shooting ranges that could not expand to further encroach), warning signs at 100 foot intervals;
• Would require a licensee to carry $3 million in liability insurance, naming the town of Tiverton as an additional insured party, and to hold the town harmless from any claims;
• An annual license, to be granted by the Town Council, would be required before a certificate of occupancy is granted, and a license application would require a site plan;
• Require background checks of owner, lessee if any, and operator of the shooting range;
• The police department would enforce the ordinance, and Town Council could revoke licenses.
Origins of the ordinance
Mr. Lebeau last spring announced plans to build an 8,000 square-foot building on the west side of Main Road at the intersection of Haskins Avenue.
More than half the building (4,500 square feet) would be an indoor shooting range, he said. The rest of the building (3,500 square feet) would be retail space for a gun shop he wants to open at the location. He currently owns Sakonnet River Outfitters, a gun shop several blocks away at 404 Main Road in Tiverton.
He is adamant about his plans. "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," he told the council in April when it met to discuss the project.
"I'm hoping for a vote tonight," he said at the time.
The vote didn't happen that night, and it still hasn't.
While waiting for the proposed ordinance to be debated by the council, Mr. Lebeau has been moving ahead with his project. He's partially cleared trees and brush from the lot on which his proposed shooting range is to be located. And he has announced plans for the shooting range itself.
The Facebook page for his company, Sakonnet River Outfitters, says that new indoor range "is going to be a brand new state of the art eight lane indoor 25-yard pistol/rifle range," with "fully automated retractable targets." He said his company will be offering firearm sales as well as firearm rentals, instructor training, gun safety courses and training, "and more." Individual one-year memberships will start at $299 per year, and family plans are $449 per year. Hourly range rentals will be available.
Mr. Lebeau could not be reached by telephone for this story.
Rod and Gun club opposition
Among those who oppose the proposed ordinance is the Tiverton Rod and Gun Club. Its president, John Means, said the club distinguishes itself from the Lebeau proposal. The club is a non-profit organization, not a commercial business, and it doesn't sell guns (Mr. Lebeau's operation includes a gun sales operation). All the club members who shoot there have undergone background checks, he said. Mr. Means also said the club includes an outdoor shooting range, which Mr. Lebeau's proposal does not.
The club has been in existence 81years, he said, and is a legal, non-conforming use on the Fish Road property. It would not be subject to the proposed licensing requirement, he said.
The club's lawyer, Peter Brent Regan, in a July 21 letter to the town council, said, "if the ordinance were to be enacted as currently written, it would shut the club down and prohibit the operation of outdoor shooting ranges in Tiverton." The proposed ordinance, he wrote, goes "way beyond the scope of state enabling legislation. "
The club has nearly 1,000 members, he wrote, the majority being Tiverton residents.
Two members of the Tiverton Rod and Gun Çlub on Fish Rod (www.tivertongunclub.com) have written letters opposing the proposal, mainly because they believe the ordinance would adversely impact the club they belong to.
"It makes no sense to me and many hundreds of members and friends of the Tiverton Rod and Gun Club (TRGC) that the Town of Tiverton would pass an ordinance" putting the Rod and Gun Club "out of business to limit/stop construction of a new commercial building that would house an indoor shooting range," wrote Melvin Platte in a July 31 letter to the editor.
"No one argues that any new building to be built for a particular use should meet acceptable safety and environmental standards protecting its owners, users and the surrounding neighborhood that exists where it is to be built. Clearly, an indoor shooting range is a special, potentially more risky use for a commercial building than just a storefront or office," Mr. Platte wrote.
Another Rod and Gun Club member, Jeffrey Reise wrote July 24 that the proposed ordinance would hurt the Rod and Gun club "through loss or increased restrictions on our ranges, one of our major reasons for existence," and would hurt the community beyond the club.
"I recommend its disapproval," Mr. Reises said.
Some neighbors also oppse the licensing of a gun range .
"I don't want to be in my back yard and hearing a shooting range," said neighbor 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.
Robin Brow lives across the street and pointed out 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."