By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer
On September 16th, a split decision by the Greene County Planning Commission recommended denial of a Special Use Permit request for a firing range just east of Ruckersville on Route 33.
After a lengthy public hearing on August 19th, the Planning Commission opted to defer their decision until their next meeting. At the September 16th meeting Lyle Durrer, owner of Big Iron Outdoors, came back with additional information that the Planning Commission had requested at their original meeting – detail of the building, safety zones, sound issues, etc. Home owners in the area of the proposed site have joined together to form the Greene County Neighbors, LLC in Opposition to the Open Range, SUP # 15-001/2.
Durrer explained that the proposed property is a containment range – not a fully enclosed range. The site plan contains 8” thick walls, 4 foot wide firing lanes that are at least 7 foot tall (they may be higher depending on how deep they can dig them out) – Durrer commented “not much can escape”. He further outlined that safety issues will be reviewed daily and a round count by lane will be maintained to determine when to clean the lanes and recycle the material.
Durrer hired Troy Industries to study the range design and see how to keep the noise level down to the required level. The “Standard Operating Procedure” is drafted but will be finalized when the county tells him what he is allowed vs. not allowed to do.
Planning Commission Chairman Jay Willer again expressed concern about the need for specifics. Durrer asked Willer what specifically he was questioning and Willer gave an example by asking about the options of the thickness of the walls – 2 feet block vs. 8 inch thick poured concrete. Durrer explained that the 2 feet cinder block has potential to shatter and he would go with the poured concrete walls.
Commissioner Vic Schaff asked how often the lanes would be cleaned and Durrer replied that his research has told him that just over a year is what he has found as to how frequently to clean the lanes. Schaff also expressed a need for more specific information similar to Willer’s concern. Durrer understood that a site plan was required for this hearing and questioned whether everyone applying for a SUP provide engineering drawings? He stated he would build to the code – “don’t you trust me”?
Willer stated that if this was an issue of building a house there would be less concern about the details. Because a firing range has extreme safety issues to be considered we need to be sure we get it right. It may be unfair to you and we trust you but need to be sure this is a safe project that doesn’t change the character of the area it is proposed in.
Commissioner Frank Morris said he was confused as to why the level of detail was being requested for this SUP. Commissioner John McCloskey was not questioning that the project would be built in compliance with county code – but the project may not provide safety and sound levels needed for this particular area – a growth area near Ruckersville and heavy residential area.
Durrer expressed his frustration and stated he was at a loss as to what is needed by the county and felt he has provided what is needed for a special use permit. And that the firing range would be an economic benefit to Greene County and it will be in compliance with county code.
Willer spoke to the location issue and asked “is this the right place for a firing range”? It is a good business opportunity for Greene County but the location is his biggest problem with this SUP. Commissioner McCloskey agreed with Willer and stated that the location issue is his largest concern and he doesn’t want to keep asking Mr. Durrer for more information is the location trumps all other issues.
Schaff felt the firing range could potentially work in the proposed are but he has some concerns. Morris stated he felt the firing range would work in the Ruckersville area. He also stated having shooting done in a controlled environment would be much better than uncontrolled shooting on farms throughout Greene County. Commissioner Eva Young agreed with McCloskey about no need to ask Durrer for more details but agrees with Morris that the proposed site appears to be safe and supports the SUP.
Morris made a motion to approve the SUP and it was voted down 2-3 with Schaff, McCloskey and Willer voting nay. At this point Morris asked Durrer if he would change the location of the firing range and his answer was – NO. Commissioner Schaff made a motion to deny the SUP based on VA Code Section 16-2a which speaks to projects changing the character of an area. This motion was approved with the same people voting aye for a 3-2 approval.
Willer reminded all that this is only a recommendation that gets passed on to the Board of Supervisors and they will make the final decision. After the hearing, the commission discussed “Approval of the August 19th minutes at the PAC” when the public hearing of the firing range was held. Morris asked that as much detail as possible be provided.
After some discussion, it was decided to refine the record to show each speaker’s comments that were unique. When a comment was consistent with previous speakers it wasn’t recorded in detail. This need for detail was spurred by the talk of a potential lawsuit on this issue.
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
Photo Credits: Greene County, NBC29