Gun range dispute in Whiting intensifies
WHITING — Tempers were high at the Whiting Town Hall last Wednesday, Aug. 2, as those involved in a zoning hearing over the legality of a gun shooting range argued the facts of the case and even questioned the veracity of a video of the previous hearing.
At issue was a shooting range operated by Nicolas Iocco on his property at 299 Stickney Road.
Whiting Zoning Administrator Katharine Briggs on May 3 notified Iocco that he is violating town zoning regulations by hosting an illegal, commercial gun range that poses a safety hazard and nuisance to his neighbors.
If found in violation of the zoning law, Iocco could be fined $200 per day per violation. He appealed to the ZBA.
At the board’s July 14 hearing Iocco argued that he is no longer operating the range as a business, since he collects money only to cover expenses, not make a profit. Briggs, at that hearing, countered that whether he makes a profit does not matter, it’s still commerce since he takes money and implied that Iocco’s liability insurance showed that he understood that it was more than just an informal setup.
Iocco argued that his range is safe, offering as evidence a letter from state firearms instructors commending the range for its safe conduct.
The board did not come to a decision at last Wednesday’s hearing, and will meet again at the Whiting Town Hall on Aug. 18 at 7 p.m.
On Aug. 2, the zoning board, Iocco and seven others visited the site of the gun range. A site visit is considered part of the public meeting.
While there, Iocco served as de facto tour guide, showing those in attendance where he places the targets, the location he shoots from, and pointing out certain aspects of the topography that, he argued, make the range safe.
A portion of the land in question belongs to the Quesnel family, who gave permission for Iocco to use that land for shooting, but were not involved in range operations. Those listed, along with Iocco, as appellants are Michael Quesnel, Lawrence Quesnel, and the Roger and Blanche Quesnel Revocable Trust. The visit lasted roughly an hour and half.
Once the visit was over, those who attended the site visit gathered at the Whiting Town Hall, where the public meeting continued. It was there that Iocco and his neighbors had a chance to speak and present any additional evidence. ZBA members largely listened and asked few questions.
One of the alleged zoning violations is around safety. Briggs had argued that National Rifle Association (NRA) guidelines say that a safe rifle range can not use naturally occurring topography — they must be designed.
At last Wednesday’s hearing, Owen Kant, who lives at 212 Stickney Road, asked Iocco if there was a range designer and, if so, who?
“God,” Iocco answered.
“Is he an NRA member?” Kant asked.
“No, we use the natural topography,” Iocco replied.
Even the earlier hearing itself was a subject of contention at last Wednesday’s hearing. Iocco recorded the July 14 hearing with a video camera and posted his video on YouTube. According to multiple individuals in attendance, Iocco edited the video, cutting out portions that did not support his case.
“The video is an hour and 47 minutes long. The meeting was three hours. Parts were cut,” said Stacey Freeguard, a Stickney Road resident.
The Independent can confirm that the YouTube video is just under an hour and 48 minutes long. An audio recording taken by the Independent at the July 14 hearing is more than two hours long and did not capture the entire meeting.
Iocco repeatedly insisted that he did not edit the video.
“I (uploaded) everything, unedited, that my camera recorded,” Iocco said. “I didn’t edit it.”
Briggs said that the video was definitely edited. She said that an entire portion of her remarks were edited out.
“Nick, I know you hate to be called a liar. I would never call you a liar,” Briggs said. “But I think you’re a person that deals with alternate facts.”
The board then recessed the hearing until the 18th.
RIFLE SHOOTING RANGE owner Nicholas Iocco, center, gives Whiting residents and members of the town’s Zoning Board of Adjustment a tour of his Stickney Road property at a ZBA site visit last Wednesday. The ZBA is investigating whether he is illegally operating a commercial gun range.
Independent photo/Will DiGravio
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