Plan for firing range shoots forward

Plan for firing range shoots forward

Zoning Board approves variance for River St. business

WOONSOCKET – Since 2014, investor Martin Dean Chapman has been taking steps to get the needed legal approvals to build a combined shooting range and gun shop in a former mill complex on River Street.

And on Monday, his persistence finally payed off, when city Zoning Board members unanimously passed his final application in the three-year process.

Chapman will open “River Street Tactical” on a property that once held the Cardinal Chemical Company, a dual firearms store and range in a 26,000-square-foot, two-building former mill.

A 61-year-old former Green Beret with training as an engineer, Chapman opened his first gun store, Pheasant Ridge, in Seekonk, Mass. in 1990. He has said he was merely looking for extra storage space when he found the Woonsocket property, an affordable double lot that inspired him to expand his business.

The complex, situated between The Plastics Group and Petro Oil, includes a two-story structure in front known as 1174 River St., which was built in 1910 and once served as a fabric manufacturer. There, Chapman will sell guns, supplies, ammunition, targets, safety products and cleaning equipment, an element of the project for which he had to obtain a zoning variance, approved by the board in 2014.

The store is now on track to open in early January, Chapman told The Breeze.

But his proposal for a range, a 90-foot, eight-port facility to be housed in the single-story building in the back built in 1870, would not pass as easily. Woonsocket, it seems, did not have laws on the books to accommodate its first firing range, and in 2014, the statute stated that only law enforcement or military personnel could discharge a firearm within city limits.

The long process of crafting and passing a law to change that ended earlier this year, when the City Council passing an ordinance establishing new rules for gun ranges with support from Woonsocket Police Chief Thomas Oates.

Woonsocket’s zoning ordinance also contained no language regarding ranges, however, and Chapman would have to go back before that board for a variance.

That step in the process finally took place Monday night.

“I’ve been working on the design of the building, and renovating the building for putting a range inside,” Chapman told zoners, noting that he is working with Action Target, a national company that manufactures and installs shooting ranges. “The footprint of the building is not going to change at all.”

Under the name “MarChap Holdings,” Chapman plans to improve and repair both structures, with investments he estimated this week to total around $1 million.

Among those to testify in favor of the range application was City Councilman Richard Fagnant, who noted that members of the Woonsocket Police Department can use the facility for training.

Also testifying was former City Council President Albert Brien, who questioned the process, saying he felt passage of a special use permit would not hold up if it was challenged in Superior Court.

“I really don’t have any strong feeling about this particular application,” Brien said. “What I do have feelings on is this application speaks to a use variance. You have to show that the least relief that can be granted is that which is sought in the application.”

City Solicitor John DeSimone said while he agreed that a special use variance is a high legal standard to meet, his opinion was that the Zoning Board is not bound by strict adherance to the rule.

“Zoning boards have great power and great discretion,” DeSimone said. “Zoning boards all over the state grant use variances that would never meet Mr. Brien’s standard.”

Further, “I don’t see anyone objecting to it,” he said of the application.

Board Chairman Alan Leclaire was not present for the Monday meeting, and member Roland Michaud served in his place. Michaud agreed with DeSimone’s assessment, saying the decision seemed unlikely to be challenged.

Michaud noted that there were no opponents to the proposal present.

“Virtually all of your neighbors on River Street are in love with you,” he said. “They’ve actually changed the law in the city of Woonsocket.”

The chairman for the night questioned if traffic to the gun shop would interfere with neighboring businesses.

“Trucks pull in and they have a great deal of difficulty making that cut,” he said of nearby manufacturers. “It’s a very important thing for commercial trucks to get on their way and continue their business.”

Chapman noted that his business will utilize a parking lot across the street, and should not need on-street parking.

Michaud moved to add a condition to the zoning approval stating that the applicant must “seek and support” a change to make the River Street area in front of River Street Tactical a “no parking,” zone.