Changes could address concerns at shooting range

The Union League Golf Club at Torresdale could be making some changes to its trap shooting range in response to recent complaints from neighbors about excessive noise and potential public safety threats.

During a meeting of the West Torresdale Civic Association on April 11 at the 8th Police District, a Union League staff member said that the club is planning several actions to mitigate issues raised by neighbors. The club proposes to re-orient the range so that shooters face away from nearby homes, to move some scheduled shooting events outside the neighborhood, to plant more trees around the perimeter of the country club and to construct berms and a “skeet house” that could further insulate the shooting range from surrounding properties.

Jeff McFadden said he is not a member of the club, but he works there as the “head dishwasher.” In speaking at the civic meeting, he stipulated that he is not an official club spokesman. He described his role as that of a mediator, hoping to foster mutually acceptable terms for the continued operation of the range.

WTCA member Ken Law responded that he and his neighbors ideally would like all shooting to cease, but in the meantime would welcome measures to reduce noise and community impact. Several dozen residents attended the meeting.

“All of us would like to see it stop,” Law said. “But as it continues, we want to be safe.”

The Northeast Times first reported on the conflict earlier this month. The Union League is on South Broad Street in Center City, but its golf and shooting facility is at Frankford and Grant avenues. Law said that neighbors heard shooting from the country club for the first time last October. By February, the activity had become an almost weekly ritual, with shots ringing out most Sundays from late morning well into the afternoon.

One day, Law sat on his front patio and created a video to document the disturbance. He counted 154 individual blasts in an unedited eight-minute recording. The noise also penetrated into his living room. At Law’s request, an inspector from the city’s Air Management Services office visited the neighborhood on several occasions and documented the noise levels with a decibel meter. The city agency issued several violations to the country club.

Yet, the city’s Department of Licenses and Inspection has ruled that the shooting may continue as a traditional and legal country club activity. Further, state law provides protections for shooting facilities that pre-date the enactment of municipal-level noise ordinances.

Prior to last week’s civic meeting, the Union League did not respond to multiple requests for comment on the shooting controversy. At the meeting, McFadden told neighbors that trap shooting has been an activity at the former Torresdale-Frankford Country Club at least since 1939. The Union League bought the facility in 2014. McFadden described the purchase as a merger of the two clubs. Neighbors said that they hadn’t heard shooting there for 15 years or more, until last fall.

After the merger, the club re-configured the shooting facility. Previously, shooters aimed eastward across a field toward woods. Now, they shoot toward the north and west in close proximity to woods and the Byberry Creek. The closest homes are less than 900 feet beyond the target area. McFadden said the club turned the range so shooters wouldn’t have to look into the sun. But the club is willing to restore the prior configuration.

McFadden said that the club disagrees with the argument that by reconfiguring the range, it forfeited its state-protected or grandfathered immunity from local noise ordinances. As a further measure, the Union League has contacted the Holmesburg Fish and Game Club as well as a shooting facility in northern Bucks County about hosting some of the Union League’s shooting events. The shooting season generally runs from September through the end of winter, during the off-season from golf.

McFadden fielded a variety of additional questions and complaints. One man and Law each asked for documentation that shotgun pellets are not landing in Byberry Creek and contaminating the water.

“We’re not reaching the creek.”

The club employee assured other residents that NRA-certified safety officers and instructors supervise the shooting. Shooters are prohibited from consuming alcohol before or while shooting.

Law encouraged neighbors to remain involved in the civic association as the shooting issue develops and to address other local issues. The group hopes to meet again on May 26 at 6:30 p.m. at the 8th Police District. Leaders hope to circulate fliers in advance of the next meeting.

“This (issue) brought everybody together. We should take advantage of this to make our community group stronger,” Law said. ••