Planners seek specifics about schedule, noise abatement as they contemplate Harloff Road shooting range plan
Town of Batavia Planning Board members concur that details – not conceptual drawings, ideas or generalities – ultimately will determine the course of Brandon Lewis’ request for a special use permit to develop an upscale shooting club, along with other entertainment options, on a 22-acre parcel at 3269 Harloff Rd.
On Tuesday night, planners posed several questions to Lewis, owner of The Firing Pin in Bergen, and Matthew Hume, a Batavia architect who drew up the site plan on property not far from Area 51 Motocross and the New York State Thruway.
Lewis kicked off the Zoom meeting with an overview of his plan and ended it – about 50 minutes later – by agreeing to provide specific information pertaining to hours of operation, the level of target practice, and safety measures prior to an April 20 public hearing on the matter.
It was the second time Lewis appeared before the board. He spoke briefly about the project last month following a presentation of his proposal to the Genesee County Planning Board.
Planning Board Chair Kathleen Jasinski advised Lewis that the board and other town officials have received numerous letters from residents about the plan – with some for it and some against it. She said that safety and noise are two of the major concerns.
Along those lines, planner Paul Marchese said it was imperative that Lewis give board members as many details as possible – the who, what, where, when, why and how – in order for them to make the best decision for the town and its residents.
'Carte blanche' is not an option
“You’re going to have to have some defined tasks – for approval or disapproval,” Marchese said. “We can’t give you a blanket, do what you want out there. From your wide scope events, I wouldn’t feel comfortable just giving you carte blanche approval on something that’s not defined – especially for a special use permit.”
Marchese said Area 51 has a set schedule and there isn’t much latitude when it comes to special use permits.
“I think it’s an interesting concept (but I’m) concerned about continual firearms – it’s pretty loud,” he said, also wanting to know what type of guns will be allowed. “I can understand why the neighbors would be concerned.”
Prior to Marchese’s comments, Lewis touted his “professional approach” to the venture, noting that he and his staff have the qualifications and experience to run a safe and successful shooting range. His plan also includes a small drive-in theater and RV park (primarily for overnight guests) and having the property serve as an event venue for concerts and car shows, for example.
Lewis said he believes that the layout and topography of the land, with its hills and berms, are a good fit for the shooting range, which would serve law enforcement personnel, club members and the general population.
“Another (thing we could provide) would be paintball,” he said. “With 22 acres, the way the land is situated, we could easily run paintball out there with the board’s approval. It’s easy to set up – nothing to construct or build – other than the blow up areas that people use for that type of activity.”
Hours of operation a bone of contention
That all seemed well and good to the board, which turned its focus to shooting days and times as well as noise mitigation after Lewis proposed being open seven days a week – possibly from dawn to dusk.
“We’re looking at a mixed model of operation. We’ll be a private club; the shooting range will be a private club,” Lewis said. “Our intent is Monday through Friday during the work week (and) it will only be open to members. To be a member of the club, you have to take a very extensive safety class. You’ll essentially become an NRA (National Rifle Association) … certified range safety officer, and that covers a lot of information.”
Lewis said he would like to pattern the club after the privately owned Rochester Brooks in Rush.
He said the level of staffing would increase on the weekends, much like The Firing Pin.
“You would come down as a member of the public (with) quicker but still extensive safety briefing to get you up to speed,” he said. “When you’re out on the range shooting – under those circumstances -- there will be a range safety officers present within arm’s reach, monitoring everybody and keeping everybody safe.”
At this point, planner Paul McCullough asked about the normal operating hours.
A later start is a possibility
Lewis said that most people target shoot from dawn to dusk, but he would be open to starting later – maybe at 9 or 10 a.m.
“Depending on the interest and the activities that we’re doing, you’re right, it would probably be dusk – especially obviously in the winter months,” he said. “In the summer, we might push that back on certain nights. Doing trap or skeet, a lot of people work until four or five and couldn’t come out until seven or eight o’clock, and we would cut it off at whatever time is required.”
He did add that he would like to be open at night at different times to accommodate law enforcement and civilians who want to practice shooting with low-level light, using a flashlight or other device.
McCullough said his “concern” was the potential of seven days a week with up to 10 hours a day of potential gunfire.
“I would like to know exactly what days and what hours to inform the neighbors,” he said. “Just the constant noise, I think, will be my issue.”
Lewis said he will clearly define the night shooting, especially in the summer, and hoped to be able to schedule it in connection with Area 51 racing that currently is permitted to 11 p.m.
Noise level can be suppressed
“But that would certainly be limited – maybe twice a month. Another thing, going back to the range design, there’s a lot that you can do to try to keep the sound from property as much as you can with different landscaping and physical sound barriers,” he advised.
“As far the long distance ranges where you would be shooting the bigger firearms, there’s a very interesting technique … of using large tires, suspending them from an A frame and you almost make a suppressor outside out of tires … it knocks out a lot of the noise. We’ll have from various shooting positions with the larger firearms, will essentially be shooting from inside of a structure with sound proofing material that will help soak up a lot of that. We fully understand that noise will be a concern and we want to do what we can to alleviate that.”
Partridge then suggested limiting the hours to 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays.
“If we go into that route of limiting your hours, how many times a month would you need, let’s say, to dusk -- twice a month?” Partridge said. “I could see allowing it during the weekdays (that) you’re going to go to dusk twice a month or once a month, but that has to be spelled out in your permit.”
Lewis said he would work with town officials to come up with a plan that works for everybody.
Logistically, Lewis said the land will be divided into several “bays,” taking advantage of the artificial hill that was made when Polar Wave tubing occupied the site.
“We’ll be enhancing with some ballistic rubber (that is) perfectly suitable to use on outdoor range,” he said. “It will make it much safer, increases our berm depth, makes it a much more consistent berm that you can shoot into – and it makes it much easier to clean, which is another huge concern of ours. Obviously, the remediation and keeping tabs on the lead to manage the property without hurting the environment (are important).”
He also pointed out the height of the berms (14 to 16 feet) as a positive thing, but acknowledged that having five different ranges – and modifications for competitions – bring about challenges in defining exactly where those target areas will be at various times.
What about existing gun clubs?
After Building Inspector Dan Lang mentioned that there are other shooting ranges in the Town of Batavia, Lewis asked if they were regulated by special use permits or “grandfathered in.”
Lang said the private club on Hopkins Road has been there for quite some time and wasn’t sure of the process used to sanction it.
“Trap shooting is what they focus on, and they also have private membership (with no limits on the type of firearms),” Lang said. “They’ve always had that set schedule, and we haven’t gotten any complaints. It’s gone through that cycle already.
“This being a new proposal, there is a lot more involved with it. Some of the tactical stuff and the training, I think is as important as anything. But would they be considered grandfathered in? Yes.”
Hume added that members of the Hopkins Road club can shoot anytime of the day, and noted that they schedule special events on specific days.
As far as Lewis’ proposal, Hume said that even though they may be open seven days a week, there won’t be shooting for 24 hours.
“Sometimes you get that guy that has a little time during the day … and I think that is what Brandon is trying to provide to his members as well. He doesn’t want to have to say you can only go there on Thursday afternoon at 3 p.m., and that’s it,” Hume said.
The more information, the better
Town Engineer Steve Mountain reiterated the need for Lewis to be “as descriptive as you possibly can at this time on operations and how things are controlled.”
“The concept site plan layout is good but there is so much more information that the planning board is going to need before ultimately making a decision,” Mountain said.
Jasinski then advised Lewis to prepare for the April 20th public hearing, adding that no decision will be made at that meeting although all letters and emails sent to the planning board will be shared at the hearing.
“We will just listen to the comments and we will work as fast as you can get the information to us,” she said.
In the long term, Lewis said he would like to see the shooting range succeed and eventually find “another home for it” as the other uses at the venue take hold.
“I don’t want to say it’s a means to an end (as) the shooting range is where our base is and have the most support. I do see the need for it and certainly believe in it, and I do think the property is very well suited for it. So, I definitely see getting a lot of support from our already established customer base for that use,” he offered. “Again, maybe to help us develop a better one down the road and some of these other uses can really take over and use the property. I’d be completely fine with that.”
File photo: Brandon Lewis at The Firing Pin, 2018.