WINCHESTER — Residents took aim at a plan to build a shooting range in town Thursday night.
About 60 people gathered at the zoning board meeting where Ridgeline Shooting Sports LLC, a Massachusetts-based company, presented its design for a shooting range and wilderness survival skills training area that would be built on nearly 250 acres between Route 119 and Fenton Hill Road.
After the company’s presentation, about a dozen people spoke before the board, criticizing the proposal over economic, safety and noise concerns.
Sander Lee, who lives on Ashuelot Street, less than 700 feet from the proposed range, said during the meeting he’s worried about how the consistent sound of gun shots would affect the quality of life in town.
“We moved to this area because it’s a quiet rural peaceful area, and this is going to destroy that,” Lee said in an interview with The Sentinel before the meeting.
Alex Hartmann, the president of Ridgeline Shooting Sports, said the range would be designed to minimize noise pollution.
With the infrastructure his company is planning to put in place, Hartmann said he will be able to “bring (the sound) below the levels of the ambient sound on Route 119.”
A Plywall sound barrier designed to deflect sound waves would be built around part of the property, according to Ridgeline’s written application to the board.
Hartmann also said he would plant vegetation throughout the property to absorb some of the noise, and cover and side the 19 proposed lines of fire where shots would go off.
He acknowledged that it would be impossible to completely eliminate the sound of gun shots coming from the range.
Lee said even if the sounds of gun shots are muffled, the quality of life in the area will decrease significantly if residents can hear them on a regular basis.
“It’s going to fundamentally change the character of that area and that neighborhood,” he said.
Others residents were concerned about the danger a shooting range might pose to those who live near it.
Julianne Mallet, who lives off Fenton Hill Road, behind the proposed shooting range, said her house is in the same general direction as the line of fire. She said she’s worried about her two young children being hit by a stray bullet, or wandering onto the range.
“I know there’s a lot of mothers that are sitting here today and who are not sitting here today ... that are not OK with this,” Mallet said at the meeting.
But Hartmann said that with fences along the property, clearly posted signs and range security officers constantly monitoring activity on the firing range, it would be nearly impossible for someone to get injured.
“No one in the public would be in danger unless they purposely put themselves in danger,” he said in an interview with The Sentinel after the meeting.
Hartmann added that because the firing range sits 60 feet below properties on Fenton Hill Road, and because there would also be 20-foot-tall berms — walls designed to stop bullets — set up us a safety precaution at the level of the properties, Mallet and her children would not be put in danger by stray gunfire.
If the proposed gun range were built and opened, Hartmann estimates that 300 patrons would be drawn to the business every week. Not all patrons would be firing guns, however, as Hartmann said they would have to pass a series of strict tests before they could shoot.
“I can’t stress enough that it’s not like your normal gun club where a bunch of people show up to see how fast they can shoot,” Hartmann said.
Hartmann told town residents at the meeting that aside from the range, his business would also offer courses on how to use firearms, and educational programs to teach wilderness survival skills.
If it opened, he said, it would be an economic boon to the community.
As the only 1,000-yard shooting range in New England, Hartmann said it would draw in tourists from all over the region who would, in turn, pour money into Winchester’s local businesses.
But town residents argued the range would only create a handful of jobs for the area and cited lower property values as a potential cost to Winchester.
“The only benefit is to the owner of the range,” resident Paul Taylor said at the meeting.
Despite the criticism he heard at Thursday’s meeting, Hartmann said he’s already received a lot of support for the project and feels confident going forward.
“The thing with zoning meetings is that the people that want it don’t feel the need to come fight for it. ... The people that don’t want it are going to be the most outspoken,” Hartmann said.
Ridgeline came before the board Thursday night seeking a special exception and variance because the property on which it hopes to build spans commercial, residential and agricultural zoning districts.
At the end of the meeting, the board made a motion to continue the public hearing on the proposal, citing the public’s overwhelming concern over the project.
“I want to make sure that people have the opportunity to have their voices heard,” zoning board Chairman Lou Fox said.
The next public hearing on the proposal will be held Thursday, Sept. 8, at 7 p.m. at Winchester Town Hall.
Xander Landen can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1420 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @XLandenKS