Gun club ordered to reduce noise

Six-month deadline to lower decibel levels

March 05, 2000|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,SUN STAFF

A Carroll County judge has given Deep Run Rifle and Revolver Club Inc. north of Westminster six months to reduce noise to acceptable standards, ending a three-year dispute with neighbors.

In a 12-page opinion, Circuit Judge Luke K. Burns Jr. found that the 125-member club is a nuisance to its neighbors because the noise it makes, consistently exceeding 85 to 95 decibels, is well above the state's maximum of 60 decibels.

Burns said the gun club's neighbors had proved that noise from the gunfire -- as early as 10 a.m. and as late as 10 p.m. -- has caused "a substantial and unreasonable interference with the enjoyment of their property."

The judge mentioned witnesses who told how their children were unable to take naps, pets that were spooked by gunfire and guests who left early because their children were afraid.

"The judge has done the right thing," said Ken Begly, unofficial leader of the 22 residents who filed the noise-pollution complaint against the gun club near Union Mills in May 1997.

"We all have been tortured for over three years by the noise," Begly said Friday. "It was a fair decision, and now they have six months to fix it."

In crafting an injunction to end the nuisance, Burns said he had heard no substantial evidence that noise-abatement devices would help reduce the noise from the gun club.

"If shooting events continue as they are, enclosing the gun club may be the only effective means to reduce sound levels to 65" decibels, Burns concluded.

Residents have said that they lived peacefully next to the club until a few years ago. They contended that circumstances changed about 1995 when the club began sponsoring rapid-fire shooting activities and opened them to the public.

Burns agreed, saying that from 1994 to last year, club membership increased to 125 from 87, largely because of the popularity of the club's new activities.

The judge rejected arguments from the gun club's lawyers that noise-pollution regulations should not apply to the club, which was operating long before July 1, 1983, when the state regulations were adopted.

Burns also rejected the contention that a three-year statute of limitations had expired, saying the neighbors began to have noise problems in 1994 or 1995 and sought relief from the court on May 30, 1997.

Attempts to reach Thomas E. Hickman, a lawyer for the gun club, were not successful Friday.

Noting that the 50-year-old club and its neighbors coexisted amicably until recent years, Burns wrote, "That result is certainly achievable again."

Burns ordered the club to implement a program that reduces noise from its activities to less than 65 decibels between 9 a.m. and 10 p.m., and to less than 55 decibels between 10 p.m. and 9 a.m. He also ordered that noise be measured within 10 feet to 30 feet of neighbors' homes.

Burns also ordered that no shooting be permitted before 10 a.m. or after 5: 30 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, or between noon and 9: 30 p.m. Wednesdays and Fridays.

On Saturdays and Sundays, shooting is banned before 10 a.m. and after 1: 30 p.m., except for sanctioned matches, one of which is permitted each month.

Burns' opinion did not specify what might happen if the Deep Run club fails to comply.

"I'm sure not going to trust the club's sound experts to measure the noise levels," Begly said. "I'll probably ask the MDE [Maryland Department of the Environment] to measure decibel levels."

Begly said he looks forward to using his swimming pool this summer and inviting friends to visit without noise disturbing their conversations.

He recalled phoning Del. Nancy R. Stocksdale, a Carroll Republican, and not being able to converse because of the noise.

"If they follow the judge's orders, everything should be OK again," he said.

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