The Berlin Planning And Zoning Commission heard testimony in a public hearing Thursday night on a special permit use application by BMG, LLC for a gun shooting range within a portion of an existing building in connection with the retail gun shop, 1427 Berlin Turnpike.
BMG will be moving from its current Newington store location to Berlin, in a brick building that has seen a revolving door of restaurants, bars and nightclubs in the last 10 years. The permits for that move have been approved. What is now being debated in the owner's request to put a building within a building to house four lanes of shooting.
The business is at the end of the Sage Ridge community and across the street from a day-care facility, Creative Kids.
After over an hour of testimony from the owners, their attorney, Richard Pentore, and several residents, the public hearing was continued to the next P&Z meeting on Jan. 10.
One of the owners, Brian Vannacore, described how safety would be of the utmost concern and that the range would only be used for education and information.
"We would use the lanes to educate people who were taking pistol permit classes with us and also to show people what guns fire like if they were looking to purchase a gun from us," he said. "This would be a 'cold' range. That means that anyone coming into the store can't have any ammunition in their guns. It will not be loaded. There is one door in and out of the facility and we would follow NRA (National Rifle Association) standards and guidelines."
Sage Ridge resident Bill Marcum was not as worried about bullets inside the store but rather in the parking lot.
"Say a guy comes to the facility with a loaded gun," he said. "The owners will not let him in so now he's in the parking lot with a loaded gun and he's angry. I think that's going to be difficult to control."
Sage Ridge resident Alex Dulay presented a power point presentation and showed a target that he had shot.
"I believe in the second amendment and I own guns but I do not approve of this shooting range due to safety issues, decreasing property values and a building that is unharmonious with the neighborhood," he said. "I think these guys will do a great job and I think it will be safe but I'm worried about the parking lot.
"Accidental discharge happens 600 or 700 times a year. In fact, in July of 2012, there was an incident where Midstate Medical Center called Berlin Police and after an investigation found out that a man had shot a female in a car accidentally on the Berlin Turnpike right here in town."
Dulay then showed a large board with a set of targets that he shot himself. His point was that an accidental discharge in the parking lot of the gun store could easily not only reach but do harm to houses in Sage Ridge.
Ellen Sibilia, owner of Creative Kids Daycare, on the southbound side of the Berlin Turnpike, across from the proposed gun range said her business is already being impacted.
"The parents of the kids we have are already up in arms," Sibilia said. "We have 124 kids come through our doors every day ad I'm afraid we are going to lose a lot of those families. It would have a terrible impact on my business."
One mom, whose son attends Creative Kids, said she is already thinking about taking her son out.
"We fought to keep VIP out of our town but we're thinking of allowing a gun firing range across the street from a daycare?" she said. "I love Creative Kids because my son can't wait to go there every day. But have I talked to my husband about taking him out of there? Yes I have. I can't take the chance that my son or me would get shot. This is Momma Bear talking and I'm not happy."
One of the issues that came up and will have to be addressed was enforcement of rules.
A neighbor said while listening to testimony she checked on the internet on her phone and found that there is no legislative body to check on whether gun permits are up to date. She also added that enforcement of the facility, it's practices and legality would fall on the town.
"Who on the town staff is certified to check that facility and if we have to train one, what will be the cost to taxpayers?" said a resident.
The Sage Ridge resident whose home is closest to the proposed range said, "It's scary to think that the place where my kids play outside and where we eat dinner on our deck could be so close to a gun range. The school busses stop right there in front of the building and they have to walk home from that spot. The mere fact that anything could happen there is not worth the risk."
Her husband then added, "Just an hour or so ago we were talking about saving a tree or two on another proposal, this is about saving a community."
Sage Ridge resident Katie Richmond said she never would have moved her family to the neighborhood if she knew this kind of business was a possibility.
"I have two children, 6 and 5, and they learned to ride their bike in that parking lot," she said. "If I was looking now and the Realtor said they might put a gun range in there, I would have said 'next house.' Same with the day care, If I was looking for a day care and I found out they might have a gun range across the street, I would have said, 'next day care.'"