Bangor has filed a civil lawsuit seeking to stop a resident from using his land as a private shooting range after notifying him numerous times over the past year-and-a-half that he was violating city rules.
More than a year ago, on June 24, 2018, a member of Bangor’s code enforcement office saw about nine people shooting targets on the property of Kevin Schmersal and his wife, Patricia, at 534 Pushaw Road. More recently, on two consecutive days in August, code enforcement staff saw about 10 people shooting targets on Schmersal’s land.
All three times, Schmersal violated rules that do not allow firearm ranges to operate in the city’s rural residence and agriculture zoning district — which includes his home — according to the complaint filed last month at the Penobscot Judicial Center. Patricia Schmersal is also named as a defendant in the lawsuit.
Schmersal did not appeal three notices of violation that the city has sent him, according to the complaint. Now, Bangor is seeking to stop him from operating the gun range. It is also seeking financial penalties, including legal fees and a penalty of $100 per day for every alleged violation.
Bangor hired outside attorney John Hamer to represent it in the lawsuit. Assistant City Solicitor Paul Nicklas referred questions to Hamer, but Hamer was not available to speak Wednesday, according to his voicemail message.
Schmersal, who is represented by attorney William Palmer, seeks to dismiss the lawsuit on the grounds that the city has violated a state law that allows shooting ranges to be grandfathered in under new municipal regulations. He will make his initial court appearance Nov. 12.
In April 2019 — between the first and second of Schmersal’s alleged violations — the City Council approved new rules that limit when, where and how people can shoot targets at their homes.
Now, at properties in residential areas such as the one that includes Schmersal’s home, only three people not related to the landowner can shoot targets at the same time. The new rules also allowed for commercial indoor gun ranges to be proposed in some commercial sections of Bangor.
The city developed the new rules after receiving complaints from neighbors about the loud noise coming from Schmersal’s private range.
In an interview, Schmersal said that he has groups over to shoot at targets, but that state law should allow his private operation, Castle Gate Arms, to keep operating as it always has. He described the new rules as restrictive and said that he has responsibly operated his outdoor range for years. It is not open to the public, he said, and he only uses it for “small classes” once or twice a month.
“A municipal ruling doesn’t trump Maine law,” he said. “I intend on fighting the city of Bangor on this to the end. I’ll try to negotiate with them. I’ll try to meet with them. I’ll desperately try to bring this to an agreeable conclusion, but if they steadfastly want to go to court and spend taxpayer money, that’s what we’ll do.”
Schmersal’s attorney has filed a motion to dismiss Bangor’s lawsuit.
In response, Hamer filed a court document that said Schmersal’s firearm range was illegal even before the new rules took effect and that he gave up his legal recourse when he did not appeal the city’s original notices of violation.