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North Adams Council Endorses Keeping Gun Range Open
By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff
01:42AM / Wednesday, October 10, 2018
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Rob Lyons addresses the City Council about the public gun range. The council endorsed a resolution asking the administration find a way to make it happen.


The nine councilors unanimously endorsed the Public Safety Committee's resolution.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The City Council on Tuesday approved a resolution recommended by the Public Safety Committee to keep the gun range open.
 
It was a strong rebuke to Mayor Thomas Bernard, who had ordered the range closed to public access effective Jan. 1, 2019, after learning that the city's insurance company would no longer cover it for liability reasons. Its use would be limited to members of the Police Department for employment-related needs.
 
The order in July came after several meetings held by the committee to discuss ways to improve the range and to hear grievances from neighbors over noise and possible pollution. 
 
The committee had reacted favorably to suggestions by keyholders, spearheaded by Robert Lyons, to develop a stronger conversation with city leadership and possibly create a volunteer committee to keep the range in order. The members felt somewhat blindsided by the administration's announcement after what they thought had been productive conversations. 
 
The Public Safety Committee last month drafted the resolution supporting the continued use of the range by the public and for the administration to develop a plan to address liability insurance costs.
 
The resolution states the City Council, "Strongly disagrees with the proposed decision to close the range to all public use, as it would eliminate a public resource of importance to a significant portion of the North Adams community."
 
Lyons, who attended Tuesday's meeting, noted that the number of permits for the range had risen to 82, but the numbers all along had been in line with average use over the years. 
 
"That tells me there's interest in keeping the range open," he said, adding that the number of permits sold would cover the insurance costs that had been quoted. (Preliminary estimates are $1,000 a year or less.) Many of the keyholders had indicated that they would be willing to pay $20 a year, rather than the $10 renewal, to support the liability insurance. 
 
"We received this rate due to the rules regarding the range being a locked facility, not accessible to the public without a permit and gate key issued after proof of holding a valid [license to carry] or [firearms identification card]," Lyons said. 
 
Councilor Jason LaForest, a member of the committee, said the resolution was nonbinding and solely focused on the insurance issue, not any of the other reasons some neighbors had raised over noise or zoning. 
 
"I think it's important to note if there is another valid reason to close the range, it was never provided to the council or the committee," he said. 
 
Council President Keith Bona was also concerned what could happen if the range was shuttered completely. A future mayor or council couldn't resurrect it even if they wanted to. 
 
"Once this closes, if it closes, it will be closed to the public for good," he said. "If it's grandfathered in, it can't come back." 
 
The council voted unanimously to support the resolution. The mayor did not attend the meeting.
 
In other business, the council referred concerns related to the Center Street Parking Lot to the Traffic Commission. Council President Keith Bona had submitted the letter on behalf of the Holden Street Condominium owners.
 
William Oberst, chairman of the condominium association's trustees, explained how the curved entrance and exit into the Center Street lot from the Holden Street end was hazardous for motorists and pedestrians. Drivers coming in too fast may not see pedestrians in the crosswalk or groups walking across the lot to and from the Public restaurant. It's also a hazard to other drivers trying to back out from parking spaces. 
 
Calling it "a perfect storm" for a tragedy, Oberst suggested that the lot's egress be evaluated and possibly have the crosswalk raised in a way to slow traffic. Work on Route 2 and Center Street in the mid-aughts chopped up Center Street into two short sections on each end of the parking lot and extended the parking spaces into what had been a straight road paralleling Route 2. 
 
Laura Smalarz, also a trustee, said the second issue was to do with the $35-a-month fee for condominium owners to park in the lot. 
 
"It especially feels overly expensive when you look out at night and there's noone parked there," she said, adding that the fee felt like a penalty and would discourage people from living downtown. The passes also can't be purchased online but only at City Hall, which limited the time available to get them. Smalarz said she was unable to renew in time on a Friday and then got three parking tickets.
 
Bona said the mayor thought the parking lot needs to be redesigned, particularly with the talk of hotels being established downtown. 
 
The council also discussed a communication from City Councilor Rebbeca Cohen about a food desert in the West End that has been referred to the Community Development Committee and will be covered in a separate story. A communique from City Councilor Eric Buddington on the availability of meeting rooms and access to City Hall by councilors was referred to the General Government Committee. 
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