Ransom Twp. amends ordinance regarding outdoor shooting ranges

By Elizabeth Baumeister - ebaumeister@timesleader.com | September 15th, 2015 11:03 am

RANSOM TWP. — The board of supervisors passed a seven-page ordinance amending the municipal zoning ordinance in reference to outdoor shooting ranges at its meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 8. The vote was 2-0 with Dennis Macheska and Jerry Brown voting yes. The third supervisor, David Bird, was absent from the meeting.

Immediately prior to the regular meeting, a public hearing was held, at which the ordinance was read aloud and residents in attendance were able to comment and ask questions.

Township Solicitor Edmund Scacchitti explained to the audience that, through discussion with the Lackawanna County Regional Planning Commission, the township determined the amendments to be appropriate in order to correct deficiencies in the previous ordinance, which was enacted in 2001.

After the reading, Bob Lukasiewicz, township resident and zoning officer, asked for clarification regarding the scope of the ordinance, saying, “By these new restrictions, it doesn’t…make shooting ranges illegal in the township, or it doesn’t zone them out, does it?”

Scacchitti verified it does not do so, and the municipality cannot legally do so.

“The genesis for the amendments was the longstanding battle that the township is familiar with,” he said. “I came on board after that battle was started, and it ended during my term as solicitor. We recognized deficiencies in the Ransom Township Zoning Ordinance, that created a lot of the opportunities, if you will, for the applicant, or an applicant, to take advantage of those deficiencies in terms of development. It also created a lot of conflict over interpreting what was there.

“So, the idea here was to research all the latest standards for an outdoor shooting range — again, recognizing that we cannot zone them out. So we addressed things like noise, we addressed things like the width of the access road, we addressed things like wetlands. And most importantly, most of this deals with safety. We’ve created requirements that there be the utmost in, I’ll call it, ‘cutting edge safety requirements,’ for the operation of shooting ranges, to avoid ricochets and things of that nature.”

No specific developer or project was mentioned during the meeting. The only applicant of that nature during this time frame within the municipality, however, was Ransom Recreational Shooting Sports, LLC (RRSS), which filed a preliminary land application for the development of a shooting range on June 21, 2010.

Almost four years later, after seemingly endless discussions between township and project engineers, RRSS representative Andrew Massimilian and the township planning commission, the “battle” came to a halt at a supervisors meeting on May 5, 2014. The planning commission voted at its meeting the month before to recommend rejection of the plans. The board was prepared to take a vote at the May 5, 2014 meeting but Massimilian unexpectedly withdrew the application, stating he planned to re-submit it with revisions.

The withdrawal of the plans officially closed the matter on the township’s end and, as of the Sept. 8, 2015 meeting, officials said they have not heard from RRSS or received any new applications in regard to that or any other proposed shooting range in the municipality.

Although he said the discussions regarding the amendment stemmed from the RRSS’s previous proposal, Scacchitti later clarified the ordinance is not “designed or aimed at any one person.”

“This is just an assessment of where this ordinance was pre-application, and where we could make changes so that if there are future applications, we’re going to be more in line with existing standards and conditions,” he said.

All audience members who spoke during the hearing did so in favor of the ordinance.

“I think I can speak for all the residents,” said Kathy Rowinski. “Once we knew that we couldn’t push any developer out, all we wanted was the health, safety and welfare of all the residents, and quiet enjoyment of our property.”

Others in the room nodded in agreement.

Scacchitti said the “specific range design standards” contained in the new ordinance leave “less to the imagination and less to dispute, because it’s clear and unambiguous in terms of the language.”

Copies of the seven-page document can be obtained at the Ransom Township Municipal Building on Hickory Lane. Some amendments under the new ordinance include, but are not limited to, the following:

• Several definitions are added to Article 2, Section 202, including those of the terms applicant, backstop, baffles, ballistics, berm, bullet, bullet trap, expansion, firearm, firing distance, firing line, firing position, firing range, NRA, pistol, public shooting range, ricochet catcher, rifle, safety baffles, safety fan, shotfall zone, shotgun and target line.

• Information required of an applicant to the township now includes an assessor’s map of the subject property; the types of firearms, ammunition and shooting to be allowed and a site plan drawn to scale illustrating a list of 16 items, the last of which is “Other information deemed appropriate by the township engineer.”

• Security fencing standards require the entire parameter of the safety fans and shotfall zones to be enclosed with a six-foot high non-climbable fence with caution signs posted at a maximum 100-feet around the perimeter of the land parcel or parcels on which the range is located, so that each sign is visible and legible from the next.

• Setbacks must be at a minimum of 500 feet from any property line and no less than one-half mile from any residential building and one-quarter mile from any commercial building.

• Sound abatement shields or barriers must be installed on ranges within one-half mile from a residential building or one-quarter of a mile from a commercial building.

• Access roads must be wide enough to allow passage of two emergency vehicles traveling in opposite directions safely, exclusive of the berm.

• Firearms may not be discharged outdoors between sunset and 8 a.m. Monday through Saturday and between Sunset and 9 a.m. on Sundays and holidays.

The next regular Ransom Township Board of Supervisors meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday, Oct. 5 at the Mount Dewey Community Hall.

By Elizabeth Baumeister


Reach Elizabeth Baumeister at 570-704-3943 or on Twitter @AbingtonJournal