NORTH SMITHFIELD – A request by a North Smithfield business owner to add an indoor shooting range to his existing guns and ammo shop was approved unanimously by members of the Zoning Board last week following a three hour public hearing.
Robert Houle was granted special use permits and a dimensional variance to construct an 840-square-foot addition on the Quaker Highway building that houses MTR Guns and Ammo. Utah-based Action Target will install the 105-foot range to hold 13 lanes, which Houle said will be open for reservation.
The company has built thousands of similar ranges, including facilities in 40 countries and all 50 states, according to Action representative Rex Shields, who visited North Smithfield to attend the hearing on Tuesday, Jan. 11.
“We’ve been in business for a long time,” said Shields. “The markets that we serve are military and law enforcement.”
In Rhode Island, Action Target built both the Rhode Island State Police gun range, and one at the Naval Station in Newport, among others.
Houle plans to add to the north west end of his existing building on the 1.16 acre lot at 221 Quaker Highway, just by the town line at the Massachusetts border, phasing out his machine shop business to focus on the range and gun sales. The business will also offer gun safety courses with certified instructors, and a range surrounded by 14-foot-high concrete block walls covered in steel plates, monitored by cameras.
“People come in to buy guns and they ask me for places to shoot,” Houle told zoners. “Everything is too far away.”
To add the range, Houle had to seek relief from three zoning restrictions, including a permit to establish commercial recreation in an industrial zone. He also needed a permit to build in a water supply overlay district and a dimensional variance from design standards due to an 11 foot shortfall on the the 44 foot rear set back of the structure.
Attorney Llyod Gariepy presented plan that envisions squaring off the existing roughly 8,000-square-foot building. Noise from the range, he noted, will be no louder than a car driving by on the highway.
“He bought the building like that,” explained Zoning Board Vice Chairman Scott Martin. “All he’s trying to do is square the building off. His only other alternative is to pick the building up and move it, which is not feasible.”
The project received unanimous positive recommendation from the Planning Board in October.
Both supporters and opponents of the proposal spoke at the hearing this week, with residents expressing concerns about issues including noise and safety.
Jennifer Leclair, who lives nearby the proposed range, said that one night recently she heard gunshots coming from the direction of the shop.
“I was very scared,” said Leclair. “My biggest fear is an accidental shooting in the parking lot. I just hope people realize it can be a very dangerous situation.”
Town Administrator Paul Zwolenski testified that he’s a shooting enthusiast, and pointed out that those who visit the new facility will have to follow laws that prohibit having guns out in the open outside of the range.
“I hear people’s concerns about safe handling,” Zwolenski said. “You have more of a chance of unintentional discharge in some parking lot at some shopping mall.”
“Hopefully I”ll be allowed to become a member and shoot there, because they’ll have NRA instructors,” Zwolenski added. “They’ll be on the premises.”
The gun shop, opened in 2017, will remain in the building, and Houle said he tentatively hopes to keep hours from 9 a.m.to 9 p.m. Monday through Wednesday; 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday; and 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday. He noted that no more than two people would be allowed per lane at a time.
“There’s not going to be a crowd of people coming in,” Zoner Gail Denomme said of the business.
“This is really just an expansion of their existing business,” noted Zoner Christopher Deziel. “They already sell guns.”
Zoner VIncent Marcantonio asked if the owner could make the range meet the residential standard for noise since the area abuts a residential zone.
“I don’t see why they can’t make it sound proof,” Marcantonio said. “They could come under the standard, not meet the standard.”
Martin pointed out that the applicant testified that he’d abide by the sound ordinance.
“I think it’s over-reaching personally,” Martin said of the proposed requirement.
“Whether it’s an MU2 or a residential neighborhood someone is going to complain about noise,” said Denomme.
Martin pointed out that an expert testified to the plan to minimize sound.
“I know the Houle family and I know they’re going to try to do things correctly,” Marcantonio said. “If they’re going to try to minimize the sound, then I don’t have a problem with that.”
Zoners did ask that the business owner add buffering with evergreen trees to help with noise.
“Right now, there’s nothing but a high canopy of oak trees,” said Martin.
Editor’s note: An original version of this article identified the representative from Action Target as Greg, rather than “Rex,” Shields. We apologize for the error.