Gloucester Township intends to hire an independent land-use attorney to review a contentious dispute in Erial between residents of a 55-and-older community and a nearby gun club.
Township Council at its work session Monday night agreed to allow Business Administrator Tom Cardis to team with Solicitor David Carlamere to prepare a request for proposals/request for qualifications (RFP/RFQ) for the job. Council is expected to approve a resolution at its Dec. 27 meeting allowing the township to advertise the RFP/RFQ.
The contract would likely run in the $10,000 range, Carlamere estimated.
Iron Horse Rifle and Pistol Club has been using a piece of farmland off Garwood Road for its firing ranges for decades now.
Residents at Four Seasons at Forest Meadows aren't so sure the firing ranges aren't posing a threat to their safety, and are certain the sounds of shotguns, rifles, and other high-caliber firearms are infringing on their ability to live in peace as they expected when they moved to the otherwise sleepy development.
Iron Horse has been using the property, now owned by Watson Waddell, since 1959—long before Four Seasons community was erected in the early 2000s.
Opponents of the firing range claim Iron Horse has gone from a pistol range to much more in recent years, with decibel levels increasing significantly sometime in late 2009 and early 2010.
The hired attorney would review, among other documents, lot subdivisions in the area in question and the chain of title for and a will involving the Waddell property.
Carlamere noted some prior land-use requests and subdivisions were approved by township planning and zoning boards.
"We thought it best to get somebody independent, outside of the township, to review this," Carlamere said.
The firing range is a pre-existing non-conforming use—one that a municipality cannot just "zone out" due to complaints by neighbors.
"At one time, zoning might have permitted that (land include a firing range)," Carlamere said. "But whether it did or not, in the '70s and '80s when the land-use laws really developed and the zoning changed, that made that existing use a non-conforming use, and you really can't zone out a non-conforming use. You can control it from expanding and all of those things, but you can't zone out a pre-existing non-conforming use."
Exactly what it was Iron Horse was approved to do on the property seems to be at the heart of this dispute.
A description on Iron Horse Rifle and Pistol Club's Yahoo! group page notes that Waddell's mother, Roxanne, allowed the group to begin using her land for target practice in 1959 "with the stipulations that we observe the Sabbath and respect God's creations."
Four Seasons residents claim the firing range is being used on Sundays.
Gloucester Township Police Chief W. Harry Earle reported to Council in May 2011 that Iron Horse's Erial firing ranges met all safety standards.