RICHMOND — In a virtual meeting that lasted more than three-and-a-half hours, members of the Richmond Town Council denied an application by a medical marijuana grower to add a compassion center to his operation. They also heard numerous complaints from neighbors of a homeowner who has opened a shooting range on his 6-acre property and discussed ways to mitigate the disturbance it is causing.

The compassion center applicant, Coastal Farms LLC, was already facing an uphill battle with council members who, with the exception of councilor Mark Trimmer, opposed the proposal from the beginning and had recently denied an application from another entity for the same medical marijuana sales activity.

Councilors were not swayed by presentations from expert witnesses who stated that the compassion center would conform to the town’s comprehensive plan and would not generate excessive traffic at the facility, located on Route 138.

The council voted to deny the application, with Trimmer casting the only vote in favor of it.

In an interview the day after the meeting, council president Richard Nassaney said the compassion center would not have been a good fit for the town.

“The town of Richmond is looking for wholesome, family-oriented community growth business development, and in the eyes of many people, the best way to grow a community is through businesses that will flourish for many generations and draw people in because it’s a family environment,” he said. “That’s what the town of Richmond is looking for for development, not a quick buck and not what’s the flavor of the day,” he said. 

Shooting range under fire

The council also discussed ways to appease residents who are furious about gunfire coming from a private residence at 29 Small Pond Road. The noise is generated by an outdoor shooting range built by property owner Michael Fox. 

Police Chief Elwood Johnson said his department had received many complaints about the intensity and duration of the gunfire.

“This one has generated an unusual amount of complaints in a short amount of time from a variety of people who are not in direct vicinity to one another, he said. “That speaks to how unusual the situation is. There are probably three or four other outdoor ranges that I’m aware of, and they do not generate the complaints that this one has.”

Johnson said officers called to the home confirmed that the gunfire was intense and prolonged.

“It’s a rural area, but the type of activity the residents in that area were describing, and the police officers were verifying, was a non-stop barrage of gunfire that sounded like a gun battle that went on for, at least on one occasion, a period of four straight hours,” he said.

Nassaney, a firearms enthusiast who shoots regularly at a firing range, said he understood the residents’ anger.

“I’m a gun guy,” he said. “I shoot my guns. I go down to South County Rod and Gun and I shoot my guns, but my backstop is 20-something feet high and beyond the backstop, because I’m shooting high-powered rifles, it’s a minimum of two to three miles, because a round can go a mile or more in the right circumstances, and there’s no mile buffer behind that gentleman’s property.”

Nassaney also wondered about the safety of an outdoor firing range so close to Nature Conservancy land.

“Why are you allowed to build a firing range on your property so close to the conservancy?” he said. “There’s a land conservancy behind you and there’s people walking through those woods.”

One neighbor said she supported the Second Amendment but she told the council that the duration of the gunfire was excessive.

”It’s definitely a noise,” she said. “It’s a nuisance. It’s hard to accomplish anything when you have four hours of non-stop brain-rattling and it is right next door.”

Another resident played a recording of a loud barrage of gunfire coming from Fox’s property, and a third neighbor, who lives with her 8-year-old daughter, said she no longer felt safe in her home.

“It just doesn’t make me or my daughter feel safe,” she said. “It really harms my peace of mind to know that there’s guns, including semi-automatics, being discharged right in our back yard, essentially. I understand the Second Amendment, but as an educator and a parent, my personal association with gunfire, especially semi-automatic gunfire, is a school shooting.”

Town Solicitor Karen Ellsworth suggested the council consider amendments to both the zoning and noise ordinances. The zoning ordinance amendment, she explained, would prohibit the firing range use, but since the range opened before the amendment passed, it would likely be grandfathered, so a noise ordinance amendment would also be advisable.

“The zoning ordinance amendment would prohibit the use, but the noise ordinance amendment would regulate a sound and not a use,” she said. “You could, if you wanted to, enact both a zoning ordinance amendment and an amendment to the ordinance. That would probably be the safest thing to do.”

Council members agreed to send the recording of Tuesday’s council meeting with the neighbors’ complaints to Fox, who did not attend the virtual meeting. The council will then hold a special meeting on July 14 to decide on the ordinance amendments.

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