All jammed up. Shooting range proposal's lack of progress, commentary irritate Town of Batavia planners
Frustration and what seems to be a growing level of mistrust on all fronts have bubbled to the surface over a Brockport businessman’s proposal to develop an outdoor shooting range and entertainment venue on Harloff Road in the Town of Batavia.
Tuesday night’s Batavia Town Planning Board meeting revealed a standstill of Brandon Lewis’ bid to secure a special use permit to own and operate a shooting range for firearms’ training and competition, drive-in theater and small RV park on a 22-acre parcel at 3269 Harloff Road.
According to Planning Board Chair Kathy Jasinski, Lewis has yet to comply to a letter sent to him by the town engineer seeking information necessary for planners to make an informed decision.
“The letter outlined everything he needs to do,” Jasinski said, on the Zoom videoconference session. “He has a lot of reports to prove the safety and all of our questions, he has to answer them. And he has not made any effort yet, so we’ll have to wait until he starts producing the material we need.”
Although the proposal to place a shooting range in the vicinity of Area 51 Motocross was not on the evening’s agenda, it came up right away during the “public comments” portion of the meeting.
Lewis, a Genesee County native and owner of The Firing Pin in Bergen, has been attempting to get town approval for the project since early March, when he gave an overview to the Genesee County Planning Board. Since then, residents living in the area have voiced their opposition while others -- both in and outside of the Town of Batavia -- have reached out to the planning board in support of the project.
Lewis: 'It's a Perfect Location'
Last night, Lewis attempted to address the concerns, primarily safety and noise, of those who live near the Harloff Road site.
He said the RV park will be small, not 130 campers as some people have said, and there will be no hook-ups, sewer or water. He also said hours of operation are negotiable and that all members of the shooting club would be certified range safety officers.
As far as shooting toward the Thruway, he pointed out that Four Points in Spencerport (actually Four Point Rod & Gun Club in Scottsville) customers “shoot directly toward the Thruway as well,” at the same distance, about 1,000 feet.
Lewis then said he believes the topography of the area, which is zoned for outdoor recreation use, is “a perfect location for a shooting range in the town” and meshes with the municipality’s comprehensive plan.
He then questioned the restraints of the special use permit.
“It is very difficult and will continue to be very difficult to get people to invest in businesses in that spot … very, very difficult to have any kind of investment in that area with that type of burden placed, where every year …” he said, before mentioning Area 51 owner Chris Mosier and the need for an annual review of the special use permit.
“He’s put $100,000 in labor alone in that facility. I intend to do the same and it’s going to be very difficult for me to justify that if I’m allowed to do something and then every year I have to fight to allow it to stay open.”
Taking Steps to Reduce the Noise
Lewis acknowledged that noise is a “primary concern,” but said he has several solutions, including planting trees around the perimeter of the property, placing berms in the direction of fire, angling the noise away from homes and putting a rifle’s muzzle into a culvert-type pipe to reduce the noise.
“And we have the safety issue covered (with) protocols and training standards in place, I think that people will see that safety is something that we have covered easily,” he added.
Lewis then asked if he could get copies of residents’ complaints (he was told that he would need to file a Freedom of Information Act request with the town clerk) and if he could stage a one-day event where people could gauge the level of noise generated by conducting sound studies.
Jasinski shot that request down, however, stating that the special use permit was a prerequisite to any formal activity on the property.
“If you want anything to go on your property, you need to follow through with the letter the engineers sent to you,” she said. “You need to start sending us the information, and they outlined that very clearly.”
At that point, Cory Coles, who lives on Pratt Road, brought up that Lewis is “soliciting his customers and others to sign a pre-written letter and sending them to the town, himself” (which later was verified by Jasinski).
“Having people from outside the town and Genesee County sending letters that claim our concerns are not valid is absolutely ridiculous,” Coles said. “… to be told that my concerns are not valid even from somebody 10 miles away is pretty unbelievable to me.”
Coles is opposed due to the noise factor, and said that project supporters are contending that the discharge of firearms in the distance is no different than a blown out tire on the Thruway.
“I’ve been living here for a few years and I can confirm that I do not hear 100 tires blowing out on the Thruway every 15 minutes,” he offered.
Resorting to Name-calling?
Then he reported that comments on The Firing Pin Facebook page and discord server have disparaged nearby residents, with terms such as “idiots, morons and even Nazis.”
“One person going as far to suggest that we all should go out into the middle of I-90, presumably to get run over,” he said, adding that he questions the legitimacy of some of the emails and comments.
Coles said photos of the residence of a sheriff’s deputy who lives in that area were uploaded to the discord server, as well.
“Bottom line is it’s kind of concerning. Mr. Lewis claimed over and over how he wants to be a good neighbor, but I just can’t seem to see where he cares if he does or not,” he said.
After dealing with agenda items (special use permits for a solar system on R. Stephen Hawley Drive and a drive-thru for the new Chipotle restaurant on Veterans Memorial Drive), planners revisited the shooting range proposal.
Paul McCullough said he talked to a neighbor who is “quite concerned with the direction of fire and having Area 51 on one side and the shooting range on the other” and about the hours of operation.
Jasinski reported that Mosier is scheduled to address the board at its next meeting for a review of his special use permit.
Chair Says She Will Monitor the Situation
Another question pertained to Lewis’ right to shoot on the property as the owner, with Jasinski saying that is permitted but he can’t hold events. She then said she would monitor Lewis’ website and Facebook page, and if she heard something was going on there, she would check it out.
In closing, Jonathan Long said the way things are proceeding – or not – is leaving a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.
“It’s a bad first introduction for the neighbors – the property owners that have been in the town for many years,” he said. “The stuff online in my opinion is just not right. But, like you said, he hasn’t addressed any of the issues in the engineer’s letter; he hasn’t really given us a site plan of what he really wants to do, so until that happens, we’ll have to wait on it, I guess.”
The Batavian obtained a copy of the letter from Town Engineer Steve Mountain.
In it, Lewis is required to submit a detailed project description; and existing conditions, potential impacts and mitigation pertaining to the environment, traffic, community character, community facilities, fiscal impacts, land use and zoning, sanitary sewage and water supply, and water resources.
The plan also requires a coordinated review under the State Environmental Quality Review Act because it exceeds 10 acres.