Gun Range Ruckus

The shooting starts in the morning and often goes until after dark.

Neighbors living on and around McBride Road in Litchfield say they have had enough, but they may have no recourse to make it stop

The tension between residents and the owners of the Northfield Reserve Land Trust, formerly known as the Northfield Gun Range, started about 13 months ago when the long-standing skeet and trap shooting site opened up to high-powered weapons training for public, private and corporate agencies.

“We’ve got logs over the last three or four months detailing night shooting, all day on Saturdays, Fridays, you name it,” said resident William Deering, who submitted a formal complaint in June with the town’s Zoning Enforcement office. “It’s whenever they feel like it.”

Chris and Teresa O’Neill, who also live on the street, say the noise forces them out of their homes most weekends.

“Initially, we put up with it until it got completely out of control,” Teresa O’Neill said on a recent Saturday morning, with the sound of pistols firing in the background. “Exploding targets, semi-automatic weapons. All hours of the day.”

The Complaint

The group of neighbors filed 31 complaints to the town zoning enforcement officer, Dennis Tobin, whose investigation focused on the issues of noise, safety and property use.

Tobin came back with a Notice of Decision determining the Litchfield Zoning regulations have no “enforcement mechanisms” in place when it comes to noise, safety and public nuisance complaints against the gun range.

According to his report, state police and the regional area health department regulate noise and safety issues.

The health department limits noise in the region to 100 decibels or less, but a little-known state law from 1998 exempts shooting and gun ranges from local noise ordinances.

As for zoning enforcement, there is little the neighbors can do because the gun range precedes the town's zoning rules. Records submitted to the town by Frank Stack, Sr., the owner of the property, indicate the range was first established in 1931 as the Thomaston Rod and Gun Club.

Neighbors have appealed the town’s decision.

Margaret Deakin purchased her home at 81 McBride Road, directly across the street from the 40-acre range, in July 2012 to live with her 8-year-old son.

She says that what was supposed to be a “dream” neighborhood where her son could grow up has turned into a nightmare, with the echo of gunshots keeping her on edge all day, every day.

“It’s ruining our quality of life,” said Deakin. “There are days when they’re shooting that I don’t want my son in my front yard. They’re probably 300 yards away from my child riding his bicycles. I don’t know who they are.”

The Noisemakers

The Troubleshooters discovered one Wednesday afternoon in October that it was police training down the hill, about 500 yards from the road.

Chris Fields, who owns King 33, an indoor firearms training facility in Southington, conducts training at the Litchfield range. He works with everyone from local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, to corporations and private citizens.

“What we do here is train public, corporate and government for whatever they need,” explained Fields, who started using the Litchfield range 13 months ago.

Fields’ use of the Litchfield range coincides with neighbors' accounts of when the gunfire intensified.

Fields, who has worked with law enforcement agencies from across New England and New York, says the use of the outdoor range offers training capabilities he cannot find elsewhere in the region.

“It's 300 yards. We can shoot from one end of the range to the other. It’s one of the longest distances that you can find in the state. Law enforcement ranges at the state level can’t shoot this far,” said Fields.

Fields says he’s working with the owners to mitigate the sound by installing structures with gabled roofs to push the sound away from the street.

The First Signs of Trouble Between Neighbors

In the months before Fields began using the range for training, the Stack family was forced to withdraw a zoning application to build new homes on the land where the range sits.

Records indicate the family first tried to get nine lots approved for residential housing. The family withdrew that application and re-filed for five lots. That, too, was ultimately withdrawn in light of complaints from neighbors and wetlands issues.

“The neighbors were first upset over the plans for houses. They said, 'We want nothing,'" said Frank Stack, Jr., on the decision to rent the range for high-powered weapons training. "We’re just making a living here and doing what we can do to survive. That’s all."

Stack and Fields also say one particular neighbor has tried taking the law into his own hands. They accuse him of shooting in the direction of shooters on the range.

“He said he's going to take this higher than the law and we would find out what that means,” Stack said, referring to an incident that allegedly happened in August. “Then, a week later, he shoots at us.”

The neighbor denies the accusations.

A public hearing on the neighbors' appeal is scheduled for Tuesday with the town's Planning and Zoning commission.

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