If the sentiments from people who live in the neighborhood are any indication, Brandon Lewis may be facing an uphill fight to acquire the special use permit he needs to develop an outdoor shooting range on Harloff Road in the Town of Batavia.
Several residents of nearby Kelsey Road and Pratt Road voiced their opinions Tuesday night during a 40-minute public hearing conducted by the Batavia Town Planning Board via Zoom videoconferencing.
Their objections centered upon, primarily, the noise generated by the shooting as well as safety measures, the impact on property values and whether it is a good fit for the area.
Lewis, owner of The Firing Pin indoor shooting club in Bergen, is looking to place an outdoor shooting venue, along with a small movie theater, RV park and other entertainment options, on a 22-acre parcel at 3269 Harloff Road. The property is not far from Area 51 Motocross and the New York State Thruway.
Linda and Tomporowski, of Kelsey Road, said that they don’t object to the concept, but want Lewis to find another location.
'It's Just the Wrong Location'
“It just seems that anytime a new business comes up that is noise-generated, it seems to go up on Harloff Road,” Linda said. “We have Area 51 and we have to deal with that seven days a week, pretty much year round. We were originally told that it was going to be limited, but it has not been that way.
“So, we’re very concerned that if another special use permit goes through, it’s going to become unlimited use again – there’s no enforcement – and that just really does not allow me to enjoy my property.”
She said she considers it a “great proposal” and she isn’t anti-gun or antibusiness.
“I think it’s the right business, but just the wrong location. It’s definitely going to cause undue noise … in a residential-agricultural area.”
Linda then asked the planning board to deny the special use permit “based on the fact that the primary use of this property is a shooting range.”
She also cited sections of the planning board code, mentioning that it calls for “a harmonious relationship between the proposed use and the existing, adjacent uses, and there’s really nothing harmonious for me with a shooting range in my backyard. We’ve heard them shooting before; it’s very clear.”
'There Will be Repetitive Shooting'
Her husband brought up that Lewis had mentioned conducting shooting drills.
“It’s not just junior shooting daddy’s rifle eight times at a target,” he said. “When he talks about drills, some of the stuff is going to be tactical, which means multiple magazines. Law enforcement officers are exempt from the SAFE Act and they can use 30-round magazines and they will be popping shots – doing all of their drills.”
Jason urged the board to “pull back a little bit” and learn specifically what Lewis is looking to do and address it appropriately at that time.
Rich Schildwaster, also of Kelsey Road, said he is an avid outdoorsman with military experience who doesn’t have an issue with a gun range, but is concerned with “the manner of what they are looking to do out there.”
“He has painted a beautiful picture, he really has,” Schildwaster said. “We’re going to have a movie theater, we’re going to have a fitness center, we’re going to have an RV lot … and various activities. When it comes to a special use permit, I don’t think various activities cut the mustard as far as what he is going to be doing out there.”
Schildwaster said he worries about the safety of residents of a mobile home park beyond the Thruway and reeled off other potential issues such as shooting at night, noise levels, training, size of the RV lot and hours of operation.
'It Will be Intrusive on Property Values'
“I’m not in favor … he’s not quieter than the Thruway and, absolutely, 1.2 miles as the crow flies from that range, I can hear him shooting and his cohort shooting recently over the top of the motorcycles running at the same time at Area 51,” he said. “It will be intrusive on my property and it will be intrusive on the values of all of our properties in the neighborhood.”
Kevin and Paul Heist, both of Pratt Road, followed, with Kevin stating that the daytime shooting hours would affect him as he works from home.
“Also, it seems like the plan is all over the place,” he said, adding that he wanted specifics about the safety protocol since there would be a movie theater on the site. He also requested proper environmental studies be conducted before the project moves forward.
Paul Heist said he lives straight across the Thruway from Area 51 and is troubled about the noise volume.
“I haven’t seen anything that he’s produced as far as hiding the noise. Is there any verification that it works?” he asked.
He also mentioned that he lives next door to the Silver Shoe Farms, which has 10 horses, who are sensitive to their hearing and could be spooked by the gunfire. He then called out the town for not enforcing the excessive noise generated by “cycles with no mufflers” at Area 51.
'Guns are Louder Than Jets'
Cory Coles, of Pratt Road, also requested that the board deny the special use permit.
He said he was aware of some shooting going on there a couple weeks ago, and said that unsuppressed guns are louder than motocross bikes and train horns.
“They say the Thruway is there and Area 51 is there, so it’s already noisy,” he offered. “If that’s the case, why don’t we build an airport there, which is funny, as by the way, passenger jet engines are not as loud as guns are.”
Town Building Inspector Dan Lang said he has received 21 phone calls about the project, covering these similar issues. One of the letters was from Nicole Cable, owner of the horse stable, who has “massive concerns” as some of the horses she tends to are not hers.
'A Great Addition to Batavia'
At that point, Planning Board Chair Kathleen Jasinski read excerpts of three letters in support of Lewis.
The letters stated that the shooting range would:
- Be a great addition to Batavia, bringing more money to the town, and promoted Lewis as making safety his top priority;
- Be a nice change and create positive tax revenue, and with the proper rules and regulations, be safe for the neighbors;
- Be, per the Bergen Planning Board, “a beneficial addition to the Batavia community since The Firing Pin and Mr. Lewis have become an integral part of our community, participating in fundraising events, hosting gun safety, hunting classes and bringing much needed notoriety to our little town.”
Matthew Hume, the architect working with Lewis, concurred.
“I totally understand everybody’s concerns. I also live on Pratt Road, so it’s kind of in my backdoor as well. I’ve worked quite a bit with both Brandon and his father, and I can tell you that their family – they’re incredible people, they’re more than willing to work with the community,” he said. "They’re not looking to make any enemies here, they’re really just looking to provide different alternatives for the community.”
Hume said Lewis welcomes feedback if there are any issues and would be “more than happy to work out the details so that everybody can be happy.”
'Special Use Permit Must be Limited'
Planning Board Member Don Partridge said he wanted to know when the special use permit granted to Area 51 would be reviewed – Jasinski said that is scheduled for May – and then mentioned that he is leaning in favor of Lewis’ permit as long as it is “limited.”
“Hopefully, he will operate it properly and we won’t have any complaints,” Partridge said.
Jason Tomporowski then got back on the call, indicating that if Area 51 wasn’t already there, the shooting range would stand a better chance of being accepted.
“It’s the noise. I’ve had it,” Tomporowski said. “We moved out to the country so I could live in peace, and that’s my big issue. If there’s some way that I can see a plan on how he’s planning on muffling the noise, with barrier walls, earth and tire mounds, something.”
Schildwaster rejoined the conversation, directing a question to Lewis.
“I just wonder if he would be willing to reveal how many people have shot themselves at his facility in Bergen? It’s probably more than one, whether it was fatal or not, how many people have had accidental shootings in his Bergen facility?” Schildwaster asked.
Jasinski said that question wasn’t appropriate for the public hearing, but Schildwaster was undeterred.
“Why wouldn’t that be pertinent to this hearing when he’s bringing a range here and we’re talking about safety? If he’s already operating a range, why wouldn’t that be a question that the town … would have?” Schildwaster replied.
'The Question was Inappropriate'
Jasinski then asked Lewis if he wished to respond.
“I prefer not to only because I am somewhat taken back,” Lewis said. “I understand the nature of the question, but I don’t think that it was asked in a sincere way. I’ll be completely honest and I’m getting a little bit choked up. We did have a suicide at the range (The Firing Pin), which was completely unavoidable.
“I can’t control someone’s actions when they decide to make that decision, so I believe that gentleman knew that. That is the only incident that we’ve ever had in that regard. And I agree with you, chairperson, that that wasn’t appropriate.”
Lewis had opened the public hearing with a brief statement – emphasizing he wishes “to bring a professional, safe training and shooting center to the Town of Batavia, the likes of which really have not been seen in this region.”
“I think it would be quite a draw to the Town of Batavia from shooters and firearms’ enthusiasts, law enforcement, countless groups that would be interested in this type of training from the firearms side alone.”
Jasinski indicated the process of authorizing the special use permit will take some time.
“We’re not doing anything tonight. After this, we will be talking about it and putting it on the agenda. People are welcome to attend our meetings – we have a lot of things to look into,” she said.
Previously: Planners seek specifics about schedule, noise abatement as they contemplate Harloff Road shooting range plan