At the beginning of Monday evening’s public hearing on a plan to convert a former doctor’s office on Prince Street in Midtown Kingston into a five-lane shooting range, Kingston planning board chairman Wayne Platte Jr. made a pair of requests: That the evening focus on the “planning and zoning aspects of the project” and that speakers keep their remarks to two minutes each. “We don’t want this to become a forum or debate on gun control,” said Platte.
While Platte ran the Dec. 14 meeting with patience and unfailing courtesy, neither of his requests got honored. What was billed as a planning board meeting oftentimes became a “town hall” meeting on guns; virtually all speakers blasted right through the two-minute time limit and the majority of them echoed points often heard in the nationwide discussion of the pros and cons of civilian gun ownership.
About 50 from a crowd of nearly 100 offered their opinions. Approximately 25 said they supported Dr. Adam Soyer’s plan, about 10 of them identifying themselves as Kingston residents. Nineteen said they were against the plan, 17 of them identifying themselves as Kingston residents.
Soyer, who conducted his medical practice in the building until 2014, when he moved his office to Lake Katrine, plans to convert the structure into a 50-foot, five-lane members-only shooting range as well as classrooms. It would sell and rent firearms and ammunition, offer weekly training sessions and have a range safety officer on-site when the facility is open. Soyer is working with a Colorado consulting company called Shooting Indoors to design SAFESHOOT and local architect Scott Dutton is also on the project. Soyer has said HEPA air filters will be installed so lead contamination “would virtually be eliminated” and stringent vetting (only those currently holding valid pistol permits would be allowed to use the range) and security measures would be taken.
Broadly speaking, plan supporters said a local range would increase proficiency and overall safety. Opponents said they were worried about bringing guns to a site within yards of both Kingston High School and the YMCA, and that opening a shooting range in Midtown would decrease property values and crimp the neighborhood’s growth.
Last week, the Kingston school board adopted a resolution opposing the shooting range. Two trustees, James Shaughnessy and Robin Jacobowitz, spoke. Jacobowitz read into the record the school board’s resolution. Shaughnessy suggested another site for the range. “There’s a lot of empty space in Ulster County that would be more appropriate for a shooting range than the City of Kingston,” he said, and added Soyer was “irresponsible” to have proposed it in the first place.
“I am more concerned with the dangers inside the school than what [the range proposal] would present,” said Elmer Leseur of Kingston, adding that it’s important for people to have places to maintain their firearms proficiency.
Christine Williams, a KHS grad who now lives in Maybrook, said the range “is a true asset to our community. It would be a great benefit to our community.” Noting that those with pistol permits were aware of the law and their responsibility, she said “we need more education and less fear about firearms.”
“There is no danger,” said Harold Grunenwald of Kingston. “I have no idea what the school board is thinking.”
Denise Kynoch of Kingston is a state corrections officer who said she needs to qualify with firearms as part of her job and said she was “overjoyed” at the prospect at not having to travel as far as the Bronx or Orange County to practice. “I’m all for it, so I can keep my job,” said Kynoch.
Noted Johannes Sayre of Kingston, who said he would “welcome” a public range in the city, “the real-world complexities of this problem have been replaced by cartoons.”
Sheriff’s Chief Civil Officer John McGovern of Kingston, in charge of processing pistol permit applications and conducting background checks, said there were about 24,000 concealed-carry permit holders in Ulster County. He called the range a “boon” for both law enforcement officers and permit holders to gain proficiency. Ulster’s permit holders have, he said, “consistently proved to be responsible with their weapons. They’re not the problem.”
“I got no problem with this range,” said John Cranston of Kingston, adding that he thought the increased traffic the range would bring to the neighborhood would be good for local business. If people don’t like it, fine, he said. “There are a lot of things going on in the City of Kingston that I don’t like.”
Bad fit and dangerous, speakers say
Kristin Wilson of Kingston said there was “significant public opposition and threats to public health and safety” to and from the proposal. Citing the increased risk of both homicide and suicide posed by guns, she said approving the range would “further endanger our community with gun violence. … Don’t allow this land use in the heart of our community.”