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Granby Bow and Gun Club appeals for right to operate rifle range

  • The Granby Bow and Gun Club, at 85 Chicopee St. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 1/17/2018 10:17:07 PM

GRANBY — The Granby Bow and Gun Club wants its shut-down rifle range back, and it’s taking its case to court.

The club last week filed an appeal against the town of Granby in an effort to reverse the Select Board’s decision that closed the club’s controversial 1,015-yard range.

Attorneys for the club, Martha Dean and Justin Raphaelson, filed the appeal against the Granby Zoning Board of Appeals in state Land Court on Jan. 8. Listed among the defendants are Zoning Board members Alan Champagne, Brian Kennedy, Ronald Harrop, Jeremy Carriere, Kathleen Bronner and chairman Donald Zembrowski.

The complaint alleges the Zoning Board “acted arbitrarily and capriciously” by upholding the cease-and-desist order issued by the Select Board. It requests the order be removed and attorney’s fees and other costs be awarded to the plaintiff.

On Sept 6, the Select Board issued the cease-and-desist order for the rifle range for not having the proper operating permits to build a shooting shed and causing a nuisance to neighbors.

“We are confident in our decision at the Select Board level,” Select Board chairman Mark Bail said. “We’ll take this as far as we think necessary to defend our decision.”

On Dec. 18, the town’s ZBA unanimously rejected the gun club’s appeal of the Select Board’s order, in a decision that Dean and Raphaelson see as an attack on the club.

“In the 1,000-yard area, they have always been able to shoot from any distance. The only difference here is they added safety measures to allow shooters more visibility,” Raphaelson said.

Among those measures were the addition of a concrete foundation for give shooters better footing and clear-cutting of trees to make room for the range. The town alleges the club cleared the trees without permission.

The club counters that the board failed to consider the “grandfathered” rights of the rifle range, established in 1947. Shooters have used the half-mile rifle range, they say, since before the town established municipal zoning regulations in 1974, and the clear-cut trees were just upkeep to an existing range.

“The Upper Firing Area is a longstanding and integral part of the Rifle Range that has been in continuous use since long before zoning,” read the complaint. “…severe overgrowth had started to impede the desirability of using this area until recently when significant overgrowth was cut back and the access road was once again maintained regularly.”

At a ZBA Nov. 20 hearing on the club’s appeal of the Select Board’s decision, town attorneys Brian Coyle and Kevin Maltby rebutted the claim that the range had been in continous use and argued that the half-mile rifle range only opened for operation in 2016.

The Granby Gun Club began advertising its 1,015-yard shooting range as the longest in New England in 2016. Neighbors said that membership has been increasing, and that some of the several hundred members come from out of state to use the range and pay yearly dues.

“Club membership has been increasing steadily for many years as interest in the shooting sports has been growing again here and throughout the country,” the club wrote in a Sept. 12 statement.

According to Bail, the club issued several no-trespassing orders to neighbors and critics of the club after the Sept. 6 decision.

“They have really attempted to demonize people who have issues in the club which is grossly unfair,” Bail said. He also alleges that Andre Mercier, president of the Granby Bow and Gun Club, sold the lumber from the trees he felled to extend the range.

Raphaelson said the club is reluctant to apply for special permits through the Planning Board, because it may undercut the club’s ability to “grandfather out” of the 1974 zoning bylaw restrictions.

“Our main focus is on the 1,000-yard shooting area, but we want to be able to use our shooter shed as well,” Raphaelson said. “It is our position that the town is not willing to let us do either of those.”

In addition to asking the ZBA to overturn its cease-and-desist order, the club also argued before the zoning board that its permit to build a shooting shed had not expired before its construction and no earth materials were removed from the property.

The board determined that the club had built the shooting shed with expired permits, but did rule that the club had not illegally removed dirt.

In the past, the club has tried responding to residents’ concerns by prohibiting especially loud weapons and limiting the hours members can shoot on the long range.

“It’s really not a gun issue at all, as far as anybody is concerned,” Bail said. “It’s the operations and the expansion of operations that is making people crazy.”

Sarah Robertson can be reached at srobertson@gazettenet.com

 




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