After months of public speaking opportunities and hard work by both citizens and elected/appointed officials alike, the Kingston Common Council majority voted to send back an amended Firearms Law in early May that had been crafted by Ward 9 Alderwoman Deb Brown (the sole Republican) to committee (7-1,) due to it not having been properly vetted. Ward 6 Alderman Tony Davis abstained from the vote as he is employed by the Kingston City School District, after the Board of Education opposed the location of the shooting range in a resolution delivered last December of 2015. READ/VIEW
The law was assigned to Kingston’s Laws and Rules Committee, where the opportunity held promise that committee members would focus their energy on reviewing, in a coordinated fashion, the wealth of information for discussion that included model laws (where three had been presented by Kingston’s Corporation Council), a comprehensive study of the collective concerns of Midtown’s stakeholders, the recently adopted Kingston Comprehensive Plan, other appropriate state laws and whatever else was placed in front of them. If done properly, the process probably wouldn’t take very long and a new draft law that was embraced by the majority might have been sent out to the council for the local law process to begin.
But that wasn’t the case.
The three model laws that had been submitted by Kingston’s Corporation Council several days before the Tuesday Laws and Rules committee meeting was met by several committee members stating that they hadn’t had the opportunity yet to view them and to comment. Even though the purpose of the law being moved back to committee was to start a vetting process, it was the opinion of Ward 7 Alderwoman Maryann Mills that the models were a ‘stall tactic’.
Instead of tabling the matter right then and there to allow more time to be given for review, a motion was made to vote on whether or not the City of Rochester model – which was Ward 3 Alderman Rennie Scott-Childress’s choice model law – be adopted. It failed of course, 3/2 (Mills/Brown/Carey to Scott-Childress/Eckert), likely because it hadn’t the time necessary for all committee members to read (whether true or not), leading to the model law being moved out of committee to the June council meeting with a negative recommendation.
What happened next is the very law that was meant to be vetted (that had been changed by Ward 9 Alderwoman Brown to allow a shooting range anywhere in the city of Kingston after securing the necessary permits required, etc.) was further amended some by Ward 7 Alderwoman Maryann Mills to define what constitutes a firearm based on NYS Penal Law. (NOTE: Although we have tried, we haven’t yet been able to get a copy of the new law that was passed out of the Laws and Rules Committee last month to share with the public).
That passed through committee once again, 3/2 to our amazement. (Mills/Brown/Carey to Scott-Childress/Eckert) with a positive recommendation.
The City of Kingston is being careful to try to distance itself from the changes to the Kingston Firearms Law as not being influenced by the proposed Shooting Range for Prince Street. However, the 800 pound gorilla in the room is that it most certainly has – and there is video over several months to prove as such. Most damning is that Dr. Soyer has not missed a meeting or an opportunity to advocate for his project when discussing the law amendment – and several members of the council who have been immovable on vetting the law properly insist that the shooting range would create jobs for Kingston. So there you have it.
Whatever side of the spectrum you are on, it is well understood that in order for the proposed shooting range to proceed, the law must be amended to allow the discharge of firearms within Kingston’s city limits. If it is not, then it appears, based on Dr. Soyer’s lawyer Michael Moriello’s memorandum, that a lawsuit is imminent. VIEW the Memorandum.
There appears to be a great deal of confusion now as to what happens next, and although we are not clear what will occur next Monday or Tuesday, our position remains the same and that is for the common council to vet the current Firearms Law properly, with even more conviction after reviewing legislation in regard to discharging firearms from three other municipalities that have been presented: VIEW
The City of Rochester = 20 pages
The City of Poughkeepsie= 11 pages
The City of Mt Vernon = 3 pages
The City of Kingston = Several paragraphs.
The City of Kingston has a good opportunity right now to follow through on process with proper vetting of the Firearms Law to improve relations on the subject. It is exactly what citizens have advocated for. To dismiss it can only mean one thing and that is that the process is influenced by several and not all. Whether it is due to there being council members who are supportive of the proposed gun range – or, council members who want to move this process forward swiftly. To us, it’s all one in the same. It has got to be done right. Otherwise, elected officials are not fulfilling their duty to the public who have elected them into office. Process takes time for a reason.
What appears to currently be problematic is that the Laws and Rules Committee has a majority of members who favor the proposed shooting range which diminishes the opportunity for a true vetting process. Therefore, maybe it needs to be sent to public safety, which would still be appropriate, with a different assortment of council members. Or, a task force for vetting the law is a better route. How do you keep politics out of the process for something as charged as this? That’s something that can really only be identified by our council president. It’s his moment to shine here.
Citizens who wish to speak during public comment on Tuesday night certainly can relay their own personal views. But we encourage citizens to focus on what is in front of the council now and that is the law. Therefore, we recommend to continue to press for a proper vetting process by council members working as a collective, to help the community pull together rather than to pull apart.
It’s impossible to not wonder how might the process turned out had there not been a timely shooting range proposal sitting in front of our council members. Citizens should keep that in mind as they compose their testimony for Tuesday and council members should keep that in mind as they go into caucus.
We will update you next week, prior to the Kingston Council Meeting on Tuesday, June 7th. Give this all some thought, and stay tuned. In the meantime, you can view the timeline below.
Proposed Shooting Range Timeline
a/o June 2nd, 2016
1) October 13th, 2015: Kingston Planning Board Meeting
Shooting Range is on the Planning Board’s Agenda as New Business. The item was eventually tabled to the November meeting. Among other things, the Firearms Law had been identified: “John Dwyer questioned the City code regarding firing guns within the City of Kingston. Kyla Haber stated that Suzanne Cahill had spoken with both Corporation Counsel and the KPD Chief to obtain opinion on the proposal and both are agreeable to the business, with obvious consideration that all necessary permits, noise mitigation and approvals by law enforcement are issued.” (other important items in the excerpts below are in bold. Please review full minutes at the link included).
Item #13: #90 & 92-94 Prince Street SITE PLAN to establish a shooting range in an existing commercial building. SBL 56.26-9-2.1 & 37. SEQR Determination. Zone C-2. Ward 5. Game Development LLC; applicant/owner.
Excerpts of minutes from Planning Board 10/13/15
Dr. Adam Soyer, applicant and Scott Dutton, project architect were present at the meeting. D.Soyer explained that the proposal is to create a shooting range, education classroom and a retail area for fire arms sales.
The concern of lead and environmental issues were raised at the meeting. A shooting range consultant has been brought on to advise the applicant with regard to the air filtration system. Information by, Carey’s Small Arms Range Ventilation, was submitted on the requirements and equipment that is needed to mitigate the lead that is expelled from ammunition. A HEPA filtration system with 1,000,000 BTUs will be added to create an environment where the air leaving the building will be cleaner than the air entering the building.
In discussion with the consultant, they told Dr. Soyer to estimate 200 people a week at the range with 40% of them coming on the weekends. Range time will likely be 1 hr. Dr. Soyer is looking into a system that will allow for visitors to check in and receive a notification of their time on their smartphone or other device.
Dr. Soyer also stated that he met with the Kingston Police Department and the Ulster Sheriff regarding the use and his business plan. Although this range would not qualify for training requirements because of the size, the police and sheriffs were very positive and stated that they may use the space for possible training.
Dr. Soyer stated that in talking to the department that issues pistol permits, they said that there are about 200 per month in Ulster County and that over half of them are women. Many people that have permits have never had any training and many have never even fired a gun. Life fire training is not required.
The Board asked if any guns would be used that were not pistols. Dr. Soyer stated that there is the possibility for 22 rifles which do not require a permit to fire. The Board asked about the retail area. Dr. Soyer stated that he is seeking approval to be a dealer.
K. Haber told the Board and the applicants that the Planning Office received a call from the ATF Investigator handling the permit application for this location and that he asked to be notified of the final decision by the Board. There is a timing requirement that addresses the date of the permit approval through the ATF and the approval from the Kingston Planning Board.
The Board discussed the whether a formal public hearing should be held for the application. It was originally anticipated that the public might wish to speak on the application. The Board discussed the fact that an article had been in the Daily Freeman noting the proposed use and the date of the Planning Board meeting and that no one was present to see the application or ask any questions or comments. Staff added that no one had been to the office to see the application either and that there had only been one call to the office before the application was submitted to ask questions about the use and express concern about lead contamination. R. Jacobsen added that he was hesitant to schedule a formal public hearing because he did not want the Planning Board meeting to turn into debate on guns and gun policies. The Board agreed that there was opportunity to speak in the beginning of the meeting and that there would be an open public speaking opportunity at the next meeting. Any questions or concerns could be expressed at that time.
READ: Daily Freeman Article “Kingston Planners Decline to Hold Public Hearing on Proposed Shooting Range”
J. Dwyer questioned the City code regarding firing guns within the City of Kingston. K. Haber stated that S. Cahill had spoken with both Corporation Counsel and the KPD Chief to obtain opinion on the proposal and both are agreeable to the business, with obvious consideration that all necessary permits, noise mitigation and approvals by law enforcement are issued.
Decision: The Board voted unanimously to table the application. The item will be placed on the November Planning Board agenda. (WP, RJ, JD, CP, JM – yes)
2) November 9th, 2015: Kingston Planning Board Meeting
Shooting Range is on the Planning Board agenda as “Old Business”. First time residents speak, and here request a public hearing. In this go round, Architect Scott Dutton states that there is overwhelming support for the shooting range by the police department who will use it to sharpen their skills. (we know today, that the site isn’t large enough for police to use the site to practice).
Item #15: #90 & 92-94 Prince Street SITE PLAN to establish a shooting range in an existing commercial building. SBL 56.26-9-2.1 & 37. SEQR Determination. Zone C-3. Ward 5. Game Development LLC; applicant/owner.
Excerpts of minutes from Planning Board 11/9/15
Dr. Adam Soyer, owner, and Scott Dutton, architect, were present at the meeting. Chairman Platte welcomed the applicants and explained to them that at the request of some of the speakers during the public speaking portion of the meeting, the Planning Board would like to hold a formal public hearing on the project. He added that while he was not trying to delay action, he and the Board felt that it was important to allow the public additional time to submit comment. At the October 2015 Planning Board meeting, no one from the public was present and at that time, the Board was able to ask a number of questions and receive a lot of information from the applicants. The Planning Board had discussed the possibility of scheduling a public hearing in depth but it was decided that a hearing not be held because articles had been in the paper and the Planning Office and Board had not received any comments or questions about the project from the public. They also had expressed concern that the issue would result in a debate that would veer off course from the actual application and that speakers would potentially use this as platform for gun control issues.
W. Platte asked if the applicants would be able to present and reiterate the information that the Board received previously to answer some of the questions that were asked by the public. Scott Dutton said that they will put together an information sheet with relevant details and explanations. He added that when this project first began, he spoke to the members of the Police Department about it and there was overwhelming support. It is important for officers to maintain their skills. As a resident and father, he said that he is often appalled when opening the newspaper about violence and dog attacks and drunk drivers. He has also been at public hearing where affordable housing is being proposed and people speak out against it. There are many uses that are feared by the public but he asked the Planning Board to consider this proposal as an application and not a debate on what is wrong with state and federal gun control.
The Board agreed to schedule a public hearing at the December 14, 2015 Planning Board meeting.
Decision: The Board voted unanimously to table the application and schedule a public hearing to take place at the December 14, 2015 Planning Board meeting. (WP, CP, JD, JM – yes)
3) December 9th, 2015: BOE Issue Resolution
Board of Education issue a resolution against the location of the proposed shooting range. VIEW
4) December 14th, 2015: Kingston Planning Board Meeting
Planning Board Public holds a hearing on the proposed Shooting Range. Approximately 42 speakers testify that evening. District 7 Legislator Jennifer Schwartz Berky relays that there is a Firearms Law in the city of Kingston code that prohibits discharging firearms within the city boundaries with exceptions, and the need for a special permit for membership in her public testimony. The issue is tabled.
AGENDA MINUTES VIDEO
Excerpts of minutes from Planning Board 12/14/15
Discussion: Dr. Adam Soyer, applicant/owner, and Scott Dutton, architect, were present at the meeting. Chairman Platte explained that the applicants would be giving a brief presentation to explain the plans for the project.
S. Dutton stated that he is the architect for the project but that he is also a resident of the City of Kingston, residing at 19 Canfield Street a little less than 300ft. from the property in question. This is the 3rd meeting before the Planning Board. Dr. Soyer submitted a “fact sheet” to the Planning Office to explain the business and operations in more detail. He made copies for the public to take and read through. We are here to explain the project and listen to the public.
The building is a 1-story, 2,200 +/- sf, masonry structure with a proposed 500sf addition. Dr. Soyer has owned the building and the adjacent parking lot for a number of years.
Dr. Adam Soyer spoke about the project. He has been a resident of Kingston for a number of years. The idea came about because he is a shooting enthusiast and because there are not a lot of options for places that he could target practice. The business name would be Safeshoot. It would be a 5 lane shooting range for members only. Permits are required for operation from the Department of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. There are a number of concerns that have been expressed which include noise, environmental concerns and security. A range consultant has been obtained to assist in developing the range. Special materials will be used to mitigate noise outside of the building. A HEPA filtration system will be installed to ensure clean air. Both air and noise levels will meet the requirements of OSHA. All members wishing to use the range will need to be certified by a range safety officer which will be on site at all times. All users are required by law to possess a pistol permit. The retail section of the facility would be open to non-members. The classroom component would offer permit holders the ability to learn proper handling and safety.
5) January 2nd, 2016
The Planning Board places the proposed shooting range on hold until further notice. VIEW Article.
6) February 12th, 2016
Mayor Steve Noble says shooting range would violate 1984 law.
7) March 23rd, 2016
Ward 7 Alderwoman Maryann Mills requests the firearms law be discussed during the Public Safety Committee meeting. Majority Leader Bill Carey asks who is in favor of shooting range that evening.
8) March 24th, 2016
Full article in the Daily Freeman reporting that Ward 9 Alderwoman Deb Brown favors proposed shooting range. VIEW Article
9) April 12th, 2016: Memo from Dr. Soyer’s Lawyer M. Moriello
Dr. Soyer’s Lawyer Michael Moriello submits a memorandum explaining legal reasoning which would support the continuation of the Soyer’s application VIEW Memorandum
10) April 13th, 2016
Shooting Range placed on Finance committee meeting agenda requested by Ward 7 Alderwoman Maryann Mills. It is later removed from agenda by Ward 2 Alderman Doug Koop (and committee chair), suggesting it would be more appropriate for Laws and Rules
11) April 19th, 2016: Laws and Rules Committee Meeting
Firearms is placed on the Laws and Rules Committee chaired by Ward 2 Alderwoman Lynn Eckert. Eckert allows for public comment, and moves meeting from conference room #1 to council chambers. The law moves out of committee to the council floor with a negative recommendation. VIDEO
12) May 5th, 2016 and May 6th, 2016: Caucus and Council Meeting
Kingston Common Council Caucus. Discussion on Amending Firearms Law. The full council listens to around 32 speakers requesting that the amended law be sent back to the Laws and Rules Committee for further vetting. The council votes, and agrees to send it back to committee 7 – 1 (Doug Koop no vote to amend the law).
13) May 16th, 2016
Ulster County Human Rights Commission issues concerns regarding Environmental Racism and other issues as it pertains to the location of the proposed shooting range. VIEW: Document
14) May 17th, 2016: Laws and Rules Committee Meeting
A motion is made to ‘adopt’ the City of Rochester Firearms Law as a model for Kingston, but is rejected 3/2. After, a motion to accept the simplified amended Firearms Law crafted by Deb Brown with new additions by Maryann Mills is, once again, voted out of committee and back to the council floor 3/2 without a formal vetting process. (Mills, Brown, Carey YES. Scott-Childress, Eckert NO). Ward 8 Alderman Steve Schabot is in favor of working with a model. VIDEO