By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer
Last Wednesday (8/19) the Greene County Planning Commission held the best attended public hearing in recent memory. The issue on the agenda was a Special Use Permit (SUP) request to construct and operate a public firing range near the intersection of US 29 and Route 33.
The applicant, Lyle Durrer, owns and operates a gun shop named Big Iron Outdoors in Ruckersville just east of US 29. He has found that his customers regularly have asked – “where can we shoot in Greene County?” – and he had to tell them there were no public gun ranges in the county. This demand from the marketplace lead Durrer to seek a Special Use Permit to open a shooting range on a family owned parcel next to his Ruckersville gun shop.
Typically the Planning Commission meets the third Wednesday of each month at 7:30 at the county office building. However, there has been a great deal of discussion in Greene County about this SUP so the meeting was moved to William Monroe High School’s Performing Arts Center and the time moved up to 6:30 in anticipation of a large number of comments from the public.
With the location of the firing range being close to several housing developments, there has been a significant and organized effort opposed to the location and design of the project.
Planning Commission Chairman Jay Willer welcomed the crowd and said he was thrilled with the turnout regardless of which way you feel on the issue.
After Zoning Administrator/Planning Director Bart Svoboda outlined the SUP request, Durrer addressed the commission about his plans for the firing range. He explained that there is no range in Greene County and his customers have been asking for a safe place to shoot. He also met with Greene’s Economic Development Authority along with other range owners, and engineers on how to build a shooting range.
Durrer said that he spoke to neighbors in the Godalming subdivision and has not refused to speak with anyone about the range and explained that he is going above the requirements to stress safety.
Durrer further explained that the range will be a tourist benefit to Greene County and he will donate at least one day per month to the Greene County Sheriff’s department for training. This is something that they currently have to travel to accomplish. As a response to concerns about declining property values, he spoke to the Commissioner of Revenue for Greene and was told that in his 28 years nothing being built has reduced values of existing homes. He concluded his discussion by asking those in the audience who supported the range to stand and over half the audience stood.
At 7:19 Chairman Willer started the comments from the public section of the hearing with over 80 people signed up to speak. He assured that all would be heard but would be limited to 3 minutes but that speakers could give their 3 minutes to another speaker – up to 9 minutes total.
For over three hours citizens spoke on the subject with the majority of the concerns being against either the design of the range (semi-open air) or the location (near Godalming development). Those that spoke against the range expressed safety concerns and fear that the value of their property would significantly decline.
Many of the opponents expressed a desire for a firing range, just not the design that Durrer is proposing. Noise also was a concern, with 20 lanes firing from 10 am to 8 pm for seven days a week potentially. One speaker grew up within a couple miles of a shooting range in Pennsylvania and said it was not pleasant. He could understand a range being built and then people moving near the range with a depressed price for the property. However, this is a situation where a high end housing development already exists and the permitting of the shooting range would lower the value of the existing homes unfairly.
Another opponent explained that not only will the range be near a housing development but it will also be within 30 feet of a zoned residential area. His research found that the Durrer family owns property near Midway (west of Ruckersville) and there are only 6 homes near the property and no school buses pass that area. He questioned why they don’t use this property for the firing range.
Those who spoke in favor of the firing range stressed the research that Durrer has done and that firing at a range is much safer than firing on a farm which is the norm in Greene County. Bill Saunders comments echoed those that suggested that the issue be deferred and studied further and more specifics in the design and engineering can be presented.
After the public portion of the hearing, the Planning Commission then addressed Durrer or Svoboda with their questions.
Commissioner Frank Morris asked Durrer if the perimeter behind the shooters would be bullet proof and was assured that it would be and that no shooters would be allowed down the lane. Targets will only be changed when all weapons are unloaded and place on the range.
Commissioner Vic Schaff asked Durrer for the design of what exactly is to be built, how much sound is to be abated and needs to see a Standard Operating Procedure manual for the range. Durrer answered that he will finalize these issues when he is told what can and cannot be allowed.
Commissioner John McCloskey had similar concerns to those of Schaff specifically that multiple vendors are being proposed and that someone needs to oversee the project and coordinate it. Durrer answered that he will do what he is asked to do.
Willer explained that a SUP goes with the land and not to the current owner. He also had concerned about the need for specifics and stated that “you don’t want me to design the range”. He suggested that Durrer return in September with a specific design for the firing range. With no further questions for the commissioners, Schaff proposed that the SUP be deferred until the September meeting and the motion was unanimously approved.
While some speakers raised suggestions of other location for the proposed gun range, none of the commissioners pursued this line of questioning. As they are limited in their scope to review the SUP application that is before them, it will be interesting to see if the Planning Commission chooses to explore the location issue at their September meeting.
Brent Wilson is the Greene County Field Officer for the Free Enterprise Forum a privately funded public policy organization. The Free Enterprise Forum Field Officer program is funded by a generous grant from the Charlottesville Area Association of REALTORS® (CAAR) and by readers like you. To support this important work please donate online at www.freeenterpriseforum.org