WATERVILLE — The Planning Board voted 6-0 Monday to approve a site plan for a police firearms training range at 970 West River Road, but members tabled voting on final plans for a 60-unit expansion of Countryside Mobile Home Park.

The unanimous vote to approve the firearms range came after more than an hour of discussion and comments from people who live near the range and expressed concern about noise pollution and the possibility that pets will experience anxiety and stress from the sound of gunshots.

The board on Dec. 7 reviewed preliminary site plans for the firearms range, a project the Waterville City Council previously approved.

Police Chief Joseph Massey said plans to develop a range started five years ago as the city looked for a suitable location. Police now train at the Winslow range but scheduling is difficult and the range does not meet Waterville’s training needs. Officials decided that a department as large as Waterville’s needs its own range, according to Massey.

In 2017, the West River Road property was identified as the best location as it had a natural landscape with high and steep banks, according to Massey. That year, a sound pressure test was conducted at the site that showed noise levels in the range of 70 decibels. The city’s zoning ordinance allows that level of noise abutting industrial uses, but readings of only 55 decibels is allowed for areas abutting residential uses. Testing the noise level again after the range is completed will determine compliance with the city’s noise regulations or indicate the need for additional noise abatement measures, officials said.

Gina Turcotte told the Planning Board Monday that she rents a home 1,500 feet from the range and is considering purchasing the home in a year. She asked Massey when officers will start shooting at the range and during what hours, and if they will do so on weekends.

Massey said officers expect to start in early spring. They seldom get to the range before 10 a.m. and they do not shoot after 5 p.m.

“We have no plans to shoot on weekends, particularly on Sunday,” he said.

On rare occasions, he said, firing could occur at other times.

Priscilla Doel said she lives on U.S. Route 201 in Vassalboro, across the Kennebec River and slightly south of the range. Her major concern, she said, is noise. On a river, sound travels in a distinct way, she said.

“It tends to, I think, follow the river. It ricochets, it goes all over the place, and noise is my biggest concern,” Doel said.

She said she hopes the city will consider the range as a first step and, in the future, plan to have an indoor range.

“I’m just planting this as a seed, because I think in this day and age, it would make sense to have an enclosed, secure facility,” she said.

Doel also said anyone who has had a sensitive pet understands the stress such noise can cause an animal.

“This is something that I don’t think has been addressed,” she said. “I think it is a humane issue.”

Andrew Collar told the board he lives 640 feet from the range and all the firing would be done pretty much straight at his house. He is OK with that because of the raised barriers, he said, but now he has to look at that “synthetic mountain,” and he is concerned about erosion as well. Collar said he spent tens of thousands of dollars to turn a gravel pit into his home territory where he mows seven of his 20 acres.

“I put my life and my life savings into that property to have peace and quiet and my very own getaway,” Collar said.

A master Maine Guide, hunter, fisherman and gun owner, Collar said he is a huge supporter of police, first responders and veterans, but he is concerned about property valuations, the effect the noise will have on his dog and other issues.

“I’m concerned about the noise, I’m concerned about the city leasing that facility to other departments, I’m concerned because there are not a lot of places to shoot in the state,” Collar said.

He said he agrees with Doel that the city should have an indoor facility.

“That’s really a smart end goal for this piece of property,” he said.

Massey said officials looked at other city-owned properties for the range, and the West River Road site was the best in terms of safety, environmental issues and the amount of space it has.

“I think we really did due diligence in developing the range to make sure we addressed issues that may be concerning to abutting property owners and the general public,” he said.

Board members Bruce White and Steve Crate said they walked the property with Massey, Sgt. Lincoln Ryder and City Engineer Andy McPherson, and they thought it was a good and safe location.

“I certainly feel better about it by being able to see it, and I think it makes good sense in this location,” White said.

Conditions of approval included that the range be for police department use only and any other use would require a public hearing and vote of the board to remove the condition, as well as possibly a change of the city’s zoning ordinance. After construction is complete, the police department must provide the board with results of a sound pressure test and if noise levels exceed those delineated in the zoning ordinance, the department must provide a remediation plan to the board, according to conditions. Also, the department must lock the access gate when not using the range.

In other matters, the board voted 4-2 to postpone voting on preliminary and final plans by L/A Properties LLC to build a 60-unit expansion to Countryside Mobile Home Park at 457 West River Road that would include developing 60 new lots between that park and Village Green Mobile Home Park. The expansion would have street connections to West River Road and the Countryside park at the end of Victoria Drive, according to the plans.

Some board members said they needed more time to review documents they received only Monday regarding the plans. White, Crate, and board members Neal Patterson and Thomas DePre voted to table; members Uria Pelletier and Samantha Burdick vote against tabling.

White, who conducted the meeting in the absence of Chairman Paul Lussier, emailed a reporter late Monday to say Monday was the last meeting for Patterson and Crate, who resigned their positions. White said he thanked them for their work on the board.

The City Council on Tuesday is scheduled to consider confirming the appointments of Hilary Koch and David Johnson to the board, according to the council agenda.

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.