Appeal from Superior Court, Chittenden Unit, Civil Division
Robert A. Mello, J.
G. Huessy of Murphy Sullivan Kronk, Burlington, for
S. Gillies of Tarrant, Gillies & Richardson, Montpelier,
PRESENT: Reiber, C.J., Robinson, J., and Cohen, Carroll and
Hayes, Supr. JJ., Specially Assigned
1. This appeal tests the limits of a town's authority to
enforce a noise ordinance against a sport shooting
range's historically established operations. Plaintiff
North Country Sportsman's Club challenges citations
issued by defendant Town of Williston to the Club for
allegedly violating the Town's noise ordinance. The Club
seeks a declaration that under state law as well as its own
ordinance the Town lacks authority to enforce its noise
ordinance against the Club for engaging in sport shooting
that is consistent with its historical usage. It asks that we
reverse the lower court's summary judgment declaration to
the contrary. We agree with the Club and reverse in part and
affirm in part.
2. The relevant facts were not disputed in the parties'
summary judgment briefing. The Club is a nonprofit
corporation that has operated a skeet shooting range in
Williston for approximately fifty years. There has been no
recent increase in the Club's historical hours of
operation or the amount or quality of noise historically
generated at the range.
3. The Town adopted a Noise Control Ordinance in 2004,
barring excessive or unreasonably loud noise that disturbs
the peace of the neighbors. Section 4 of the Ordinance
No person or persons shall make, cause to be made, assist in
making or continue any excessive, unnecessary, unreasonably
loud noise or disturbance, which disturbs, destroys, or
endangers the comfort, health, peace, or safety of others
within the immediate vicinity of the noise or disturbance.
section also lists specific kinds of prohibited disturbances.
Section 5 includes decibel limits for noise created on
non-residential properties, along with permitted time frames
for such noise. Section 6.13 of the Ordinance includes the
following exemption from the prohibitions of the ordinance:
The use of firearms . . . when used for sport shooting
consistent with any permitting conditions placed on such use.
For sport shooting uses permitted prior to January 1, 2005,
the hours of operation will be determined through a written
agreement with the Town.
2007, the parties entered into an agreement identifying the
Club's hours of operation. This agreement contained a
one-year term that automatically renewed absent written
notice from one of the parties. In their agreement, the
parties established that the hours of operation for the
shooting range would be Wednesdays from 4:00 p.m. to dusk,
Sundays from 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., and Saturdays for
special events only. The agreement did not define what
constituted a "special event" or place limits on
the number of such events, but it limited the Saturday
special event exemption to the hours of 9:00 a.m. to 4:00
p.m. and required the Club to give the town at least
forty-eight hours' notice of a special event.
4. In 2014, the Town wrote the Club asking to renegotiate the
agreement to specifically define the term "special
events" and limit them to five or six events per year.
The Town acknowledged that this limitation would result in a
reduction of such events from a historical average of twelve
per year and suggested that, if the Club declined the
proposed changes, it might attempt to limit special events to
one or two per year. The Club responded that it would not
agree to any terms that restricted or had the potential to
restrict shooting activities to levels below historical
operating levels. It subsequently proposed a new agreement
that would have substantially increased the Club's hours
of operations. On April 7, 2015, the Club notified the Town
of its intent to terminate the parties' agreement on May
1, 2015 if the parties failed to reach a resolution. The
parties did not successfully negotiate a new agreement and
their longstanding agreement terminated on May 1, 2015.
5. On May 6 and again on May 10, the Town cited the Club for
violating the Ordinance. The Town claimed that absent an
agreement, the Club's shooting range no longer qualified
for an exemption under Section 6.13 of the Ordinance and thus
violated Section 4 of the Ordinance, which prohibits
excessive, unnecessary, or unreasonably loud noise. The Club
had not changed the operating hours of the shooting range
after the parties terminated the agreement, and the times of
the alleged violations were consistent with the ...