By Holly Crocco
Many residents of Mahopac and Carmel – and even Somers – appeared before the Carmel Planning Board on March 22 to voice their comments and concerns, or support for a proposal by the Willow Wood Club on Union Valley Road to expand its programs to include a 14-station clay target shooting range.
Willow Wood Club President George Calcagnini explained that the 200-member club is looking to offer those near and far a place to learn and grow their skills.
“Shooting clays is a sport that really teaches people to be disciplined and thoughtful and how to break the targets,” he said. “It’s a sport that is the fastest growing of the shooting sports.”
Graeme Cooper of Somers lives next door to the club. “I’m directly affected, along with thousands of Somers and Mahopac residents, by the proposed expansion of the Willow Wood gun club,” he said.
Cooper said he’s concerned about the amount of lead that will be left on the land from all the rounds fired, and how it will run off into the wetlands.
“In spite of the fact that Willow Wood has cradle-to-grave responsibility for every shot fired past and present, they have no plans to reclaim any of the lead they will leave on the site, and based on the club’s own calculations, that will be 60 tons per year,” he said.
Union Valley Road resident Patricia Perez asked how the town will monitor the sound, what kind of equipment will be used to do so, and who will answer to neighbors’ complaints.
“Despite how the sound is measured, how can you believe it is within the decibel level that the town ordinance allows?” she asked. “How about when there are 20, 40, 60 shooters during the club’s hours of operations? … Willow Wood cannot be trusted to police itself. The Town of Carmel and the planning board need to do it for us.”
Heritage Hills resident Pamela Manna said that over the past 15 years that she’s owned her home, she’s been able to put up with the sound of gunfire.
“We’ve heard the guns from day one, but they have been tolerable – more than tolerable,” she said. “Sure, when there’s tournaments it is excessively noisy, but other than that we just live with it.”
However, with the expansion – and new shooting stations only yards from her home – Manna said she fears the noise will increase and become unbearable.
“I implore the board here, even though we are not from Putnam, to please listen to some of the people very close to you,” she said. “I’m probably closer to these guns at the newer station than most of the people in this room.”
Eric Woolley Mahopac said the club has provided his son, who showed an interest in shooting at a young age, with a venue to learn and practice.
“I am not a shooter. I couldn’t help him,” Woolley explained. “We found Willow Wood, and they taught him safe gun practices. They taught him how to shoot shotgun sports. He now shoots in every summer and winter league… It’s been a great experience for my son and our family, and to me, it’s an asset to have this club in town.”
Club member Carl Stark of Mahopac also called Willow Wood an asset.
“I take my kids there all the time,” he said. “It’s a great family outing, and we’re losing these things left and right.”
Stark also questioned the environmental concerns that neighbors brought up.
“Anybody here who fertilizes their grass, you can’t say anything about the lead because you don’t care about the water going into your well,” he said. “Read a bag of fertilizer. Lead comes out of the ground. I grew up in New Rochelle. I drank water from my spigot. It was a lead-lined pipe. I’m still here.”
At the conclusion of the public hearing, Calcagnini said the expansion of the club will not affect nearby homeowners.
“We are not increasing the level of noise at all,” he said. “We are moving into a different portion of the property, but the noise level will be the exact same for the neighbors.”
Further, he said there are no wetlands where the clay shooting will take place.
The public hearing was closed, with written comment accepted for another 10 days.