Granby orders gun range shut down over zoning violations

  • The Granby Bow & Gun Club on Chicopee Street in Granby has been ordered to close down its rifle range because of alleged zoning violations. GAZETTE STAFF/KEVIN GUTTING

Thursday, September 07, 2017

GRANBY — Parts of the Granby Bow and Gun Club are in violation of town zoning bylaws and must be shut down, the Select Board ruled Tuesday.

In the latest of several meetings on the topic, the board met in response to grievances from neighborhood residents, many of whom filed formal complaints about loud noise coming from the club’s 1,015-yard rifle range, as well as other safety and environmental concerns.

The club is owned by Debi and Andre Mercier and has been in existence since around 1950, though the range in question has only been in operation since last year.

“The Select Board, acting as the zoning enforcement agency, issued a cease-and-desist order for the 1,000-yard range that the gun club had started without getting the proper permits,” Select Board Chairman Mark Bail said Wednesday.

The board also decided to close down a shooting shed on the property because it had been built with an expired building permit, and the building inspector hadn’t seen it, he said.

Chris Martin, Granby’s town administrator, said the cease-and-desist letter is currently being written and reviewed by counsel, and would shortly be sent to the club. The Select Board did not issue any penalties to the club at the time, Martin said — a fact that irked some residents at Tuesday’s meeting.

“There could be penalties in the future, we don’t know at this time,” Martin said.

In a statement issued through their lawyer, the club’s officers said they work hard to operate in full compliance with the law.

“The Club believes the decision made by the Selectboard yesterday evening reflects a misunderstanding of the Club’s legal and longtime use of its range, and it will be working with the Town in the coming days and weeks to straighten out this situation as quickly as possible,” the statement reads.

The bow and gun club’s neighbors in Granby and Belchertown, some of whom are gun owners and gun club members themselves, together filed three formal complaints alleging that it was only last year, after the club clear-cut trees and built the new range, that the noise became unbearable.

Robin LaBorde, whose home is across Chicopee Street from the club, said in a complaint signed by other neighbors that the noise from the range wakes his wife at night, caused a horse to throw his adult son to the ground in fright, and is affecting the family’s ability to sell their property.

“We have lived here at 88 Chicopee Street for over 30 years with no loud or excessive noises from the club grounds with the exception of recent years,” he wrote, adding that some of the club’s targets are too close to his neighbor’s property.

LaBorde also said he and his neighbors get their water from the club’s grounds, and worry about the environmental impacts of lead from bullets. Nearby residents have also previously expressed concerns about a manufactured topsoil the club wanted to use at the site.

“We want reduced noise levels, non-contaminated environment and to be able to enjoy our property without getting hit by a stray bullet,” LaBorde wrote, signing the letter “An Unsafe Neighbor.”

Until recently, the bow and gun club was represented by Edward George, whose Woburn firm often takes on cases concerning firearms licensing, advocacy and “sportsman’s clubs,” according to his website. George also serves as counsel for the state’s National Rifle Association of America affiliate, the Massachusetts Gun Owners’ Action League, the website says.

George hung up on a reporter Wednesday after declining to comment on the case or why he was no longer representing the Granby club.

The bow and gun club has now retained the services of two other lawyers: Martha Dean, a former Republican candidate for attorney general and governor in Connecticut, whose website touts her experience in “Shooting Range Defense & Firearms Incidents”; and Justin Raphaelson of Worcester, who has previously worked on other gun-club cases in Massachusetts.

Raphaelson said he wasn’t sure why the Granby Bow and Gun Club had changed lawyers. He said he and Dean have worked together previously on gun-related cases in Massachusetts, and that was possibly how the club knew about them.

“They heard about us and hired us,” he said.

Dean declined to comment on why she had taken over the case.

Dean drew public outrage in 2013 after posting a link on her Facebook page that questioned the veracity of the 2011 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in which 20 schoolchildren and six staff members were killed. The video appeared to back a conspiracy theory put forward by some that the massacre was staged for the benefit of advocates for stricter gun laws.

Despite the lawyers’ backgrounds in gun cases, however, city officials and neighbors say their complaints have nothing to do with firearms.

“It’s not like we’re in Amherst and we don’t believe in guns,” Bail, the Select Board chairman, quipped. “Nobody is opposed to guns — they’re opposed to these people creating a gross nuisance because they’re not following the law.”

In July, at a meeting of the Belchertown Select Board, resident Elaine Chaloux, a member of a gun club herself, said she has lived near the property for almost 40 years before starting to hear bothersome gunshots — audible from inside her home — last fall.

It was complaints like those, Bail said, that caused the town to begin looking into possible zoning violations on the property. He said the issues had previously gone unaddressed because if inspectors have no reason to go on someone’s property, violations can go unnoticed.

“We weren’t aware of them,” he said. “A lot of these things don’t turn up. A lot of people do things on their property all the time.”

Bail also said the town has had a high turnover of building inspectors over the past decade. Marc Guillemette, South Hadley’s building commissioner, is currently pulling double duty serving as Granby’s interim inspector of buildings.

Bail said the gun club needs to follow the proper procedure if it wants to resolve the issues.

“They have to go back to the beginning and do things right,” he said. “I think if they went through the process correctly, yes, something could work out that would be amenable to the neighbors and the gun club.”

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@ gazettenet.com.