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Ramara council hears barrage of concerns about gun range

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In Council Watch
Nov 16th, 2020
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Site of a proposed shooting range on Concession Road 5 in Ramara.

Township considering ban on shooting ranges, but it wouldn’t impact current ones; ‘These people are being shamefully disrespectful to their neighbours and friends’

By Nathan Taylor Orillia Matters 

Ramara is looking at banning shooting ranges in the township, but the move wouldn’t do anything to address properties that are currently of concern to residents.

A public meeting was held recently to gather feedback about proposed amendments to the Official Plan and zoning bylaw that would state a gun/shooting range is not a permitted active recreational use.

However, when making changes to Official Plans and zoning bylaws, “you can’t retroactively remove uses that have been legally established,” Kent Randall, of EcoVue Consulting Services, told council.

It will also have no bearing on site-plan applications that have already been submitted. That’s the case for the property at 1131 Concession Rd. 5, just east of Brechin, which is looking to become home to a private gun range that “will only be used by law enforcement agents, military personnel and shooting enthusiasts (members only),” the owners wrote in a letter to council almost three years ago.

Mike Douglas is among the residents who have expressed concern about the proposed range and the fact its application will still be considered by council.

“We suspect, based on past experience, they’re going to handle it the way they handled the large-scale soil dumping,” he said of previous concerns about soil being allowed to be trucked to that property to create berms. “We’re quite worried they’re going to go ahead with this gun range.”

Just because the site-plan application is still allowed doesn’t mean it’s a done deal, said Ramara Mayor Basil Clarke.

“It doesn’t mean we can’t turn down the application,” he said.

The township has already fined the property owners, Clarke added, for allowing shooting on site. He said the owners hosted the Toronto Police Service’s Emergency Task Force, which trained on the property despite it not being a licensed gun range. The police didn’t know they shouldn’t have been shooting there, he said.

“They apologized. They certainly meant no harm,” he said, but added that incident won’t help the property owner’s chances of getting the site plan approved.

Council received more than 40 letters in advance of the public meeting, most of which were from those who supported the amendments.

During the meeting, many residents shared their experiences of living near the proposed gun range.

For two years, Pat Radonicich said, she has been hearing gunfire, sometimes for hours at a time. She also referenced the Toronto police training at the site.

“Meanwhile, down-range, children waited for the school bus,” she said. “These ranges should be relocated to truly rural areas outside of Ramara.”

Dan Ormsby spoke next and felt like a broken record, having addressed the issue previously through a deputation, writing letters to council and speaking at meetings.

“I state the same thing over and over again and, yet, it still continues to be an issue,” he said. “Safety, hunting and regular gun use is not my issue. It’s the onslaught of repetitive, synchronous, loud and annoying shooting that is.”

Nearby residents feel like “second-class citizens,” Ormsby said, adding it is affecting their property values and limiting their enjoyment of their properties.

“My family has suffered significant emotional stress over this,” he said.

Samantha Downs played an audio recording of repetitive, rapid gunfire she heard from her property.

“This happens most weekends, some weekdays. We never know when or for how long,” she said. “I don’t think many of you listening tonight could handle that. Whether a gun enthusiast or not, we all enjoy our quiet time at home and this is gone for us.”

Brian Graham, a hunter, added to the chorus of complaints about the proposed gun range.

“These people are being shamefully disrespectful to their neighbours and friends. If they want to fit into the community — and we all want them to — then they can’t do that,” he said. “I want a bylaw that deals with both those properties that are causing the problem.”

The second property is a private property nearby that has generated complaints due to the sound of gunfire.

“These are just people who claim to be shooting on their own property,” Clarke told OrilliaMatters, but added there have been reports of “truckloads of folks” showing up there. “We’re going to have to write a bylaw to address that. That’s our next challenge. We’re trying to define what we consider a private shooting range.”

Not everyone who spoke during the public meeting was in favour of the proposed amendments.

Nelson Thall, who said he “casually” shoots on property he owns on Concession Road A, would prefer the township address concerns on a case-by-case basis rather than implement a township-wide ban.

“My concern is that instead of maintaining the opportunity for someone to come in and build a range that is way off the beaten track, we’re setting up a situation where no one is going to want to do that,” he said.

If the amendments are approved, he feels the rights of those who follow the rules will be “trampled on.”

One resident asked why the owner of the proposed gun range was even allowed to submit a site-plan application if it is not currently defined as a permitted use in the zoning bylaw.

Kent noted there is a “fairly broad definition” of active recreational use. It provides some examples but uses language like “such as” that leaves it open to interpretation. He believes a gun range falls under that definition.

“That’s my planning opinion,” he said.

The amendments would explicitly state a gun range is not a permitted use, which “removes all doubt,” Kent added.

The last person to speak at the meeting was Jamie Elliott, president of the Canadian Coalition for Firearm Rights. He said he was representing residents who have brought their concerns to him.

“I’m here to dispel the myth that properly built, legal and certified ranges do not belong in our communities,” he said.

Operators of those ranges are already subjected to an “intrusive” screening process, Elliott said.

He also referred to some gun ranges as “social epicentres” in their communities, often supporting charitable causes.

“The firearms community should not be demonized and looked upon as a blight in the community,” he said.

He also tried to shoot down some claims made by residents who oppose gun ranges in the township, including concerns about “fully automatic firearms” being used on those properties. The use of fully automatic firearms on gun ranges has been banned in Canada since 1977 and can be used only by police or the military, he said.

Elliott called some of the concerns “irrational fears for safety” and saw it as a case of NIMBY (not in my backyard), which he referred to as “mob rule.”

A staff recommendation on the proposed amendments is expected to come before council in December.

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