Gun club, selectboard work toward new agreement

By Jason Starr

Observer staff

The Williston Selectboard tabled a noise ordinance change Tuesday that would have imposed a limit on the number of Saturday shooting events at the North Country Sportsman’s Club in favor of renewed negotiations on a voluntary agreement.

Club president Bob Otty pledged to provide town administrators with data on the number of Saturday events the club has held historically to set a baseline for negotiations.

The Vermont Supreme Court ruled in June that the club is entitled to operate with the same hours and same number of Saturday events that were in place in 2006, when state statute was amended to limit municipal oversight of sport shooting ranges. The club’s regular hours are Wednesdays from 4 p.m. to dusk and Sundays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The court also encouraged the club and the town to define the nature of Saturday events and how many the club has historically held as a way to move forward with a new agreement.

“Our goal is to protect the status quo,” Town Manager Rick McGuire said during Tuesday’s selectboard meeting. “Now we are having an argument over what the status quo is. Let’s figure that out.”

Otty, who was not involved with the club in 2006, said he plans to get in touch with past club members and patrons who participated in Saturday events to learn how many the club was holding at that time.

“That would be very helpful,” McGuire said, adding that the club held nine Saturday events in 2008 “and it felt like they were doing it every Saturday.”

The town’s ordinance change proposal sought to limit Saturday events to up to nine per year. In previous failed negotiations, the club was seeking up to 12 Saturday events. In future negotiations, Otty said the club may seek the flexibility to hold special events on weekdays in addition to Saturdays.

Weekday special events would be less impactful on surrounding neighborhoods because fewer people will be at home compared to Saturdays, he said.

Board members Jeff Fehrs and Joy Limoge indicated that the town will be looking for assurances that special events at the club not be on consecutive weekends.

“Any details with regard to hours and special events should be left to a voluntary agreement,” Otty said. “The ordinance isn’t the proper document to dictate these things.”

Selectboard chairman Terry Macaig said whether there is a voluntary agreement or not, the town’s current noise ordinance needs to be amended in light of the Supreme Court ruling. The current ordinance requires the club to enter into a formal agreement with the town about hours of operation and special events. The Supreme Court ruled that the town cannot force the club to sign an agreement.

“The current ordinance is unenforceable,” McGuire acknowledged.

Any ordinance change will require a public hearing.

Williston resident David Resi encouraged the club and town to settle on a number of Saturday events somewhere between nine and 12 and enter into a new agreement. An occasional gun club patron, he said noise from the club is softer than what comes from local soccer fields and school band practice.