Within 10 minutes of the start of the Planning Board meeting Jan. 10, members voted that Montville's Site Plan Review Ordinance, as written, does not apply to Arne Smith and his shooting range. Barring an appeal, the move effectively ends the town's involvement in the ongoing dispute among neighbors.

The meeting was the latest official determination in the sometimes contentious discussion over a resident's right to shoot weapons on his property and a neighbor's right to peace and quiet.

Approximately 22 people packed a meeting room in the Town Office, including attorney Peter W. Drum representing Smith, attorney Scott Gurney representing Camp NEOFA, a Waldo County Sheriff's Office deputy and area residents.

Montville selectmen previously approved spending $500, at the request of Planning Board Chairman Peter Kassen, to obtain legal advice regarding whether the Site Plan Review Ordinance pertains to a private shooting range.

"The independent lawyer has indicated the ordinance does not cover incidents such as this," Kassen said, "that it (the ordinance) is meant specifically for commercial projects."

Smith has argued throughout all the proceedings that he understood the term "nonresidential" (language from the town ordinance) to imply commercial use, something he claims does not apply to his shooting range.

Several board members agreed that the independence of the advice was important. One board member said the attorney's advice was not on the "nature of the activity, but rather on the fact that it's not commercial."

Planning Board member Kathy Roberts noted, "The lawyer also mentioned that abutters can move this forward in a way that the board has no jurisdiction over; there are state statutes that can apply if they decide to go forward (with civil action)."

Gurney, speaking on behalf of Camp NEOFA, said for the record he was establishing his client as having "aggrieved party status," setting up a possible appeal moving forward. Gurney said he did not know if his client would "fund an appeal," but said he wanted to claim the appeal rights regardless. The camp lies beyond the far end of Smith's shooting range.

While the board agreed the ordinance language is vague, and all felt the attorney helped them better interpret the document, some members still believe the dispute boils down to common sense.

Board member John Twomey recalled a conversation he had with well-known photographer Peggy McKenna when he first moved to Montville, about how the town operates.

He said McKenna told him, "'Historically there has been a strong propensity for neighbors to watch out for one another's peace of mind, for neighbors to work cooperatively together, for neighbors to be considerate of one another's feelings, and to engage in peaceful and productive dialogue with regards to any kinds of disputes that come up.'

"…In general we try and make a real effort not to frig up the peace of mind of our neighbors," he added.

One of Smith's neighbors read a prepared statement. She said she was not appealing the board's decision, but also was claiming aggrieved party status.

"I would like to take the opportunity to thank the Planning Board publicly for all their hard work these last few months, trying to sort this situation out," the neighbor said. "Before I take actions on my own, it was always my intent to allow the board to bring their deliberations to a conclusion. I will now take civil action to mitigate what has happened."

Roberts, of the Planning Board, also read a prepared statement. "This decision likely feels like a win for the Smiths and others in the community; however, as a Montville resident, I feel compelled to voice my opinion otherwise.

"I think that many of us who have moved here from away, settled in Montville for similar reasons. We enjoy the beauty of our surroundings, the peace and quiet, the sense of security and safety for our families, and equally important, we have a sense of community where neighbors, for the most part, respect each others' differences and independence.

"Mr. Smith, as a newcomer to our community, you clearly exercised your sense of freedom without too much regard for your neighbors….

"If you lived in the middle of a hundred acres, this might be a different story than on a piece of property in a neighborhood where you can see your neighbor's house beyond the boundary of a shared stone wall."

Roberts went on to say Smith's activities may be the "catalyst" for the town to reassess the lack of regulations and stimulate conversation about what the vision is for the community and perhaps encourage legislation.

"As a member of this community, I invite you (referring to Smith) to join in these discussions," Roberts said. "I graciously welcome your family to Montville and I hope you give fair consideration to your actions on behalf of our entire community."