By. Brent Wilson, Field Officer
The Greene County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to deny a Special Use Permit for a shooting range in Ruckersville, just east of the Route 29 and 33 intersection.
Ellis Lyle II, Tammy Durrer and Virginia Durrer (owners of Big Iron Outdoors) Special Use Permit, #15-002, request was heard at the October 13th supervisors meeting. The meeting was moved to the William Monroe High School Performing Arts Center to accommodate a larger than average citizen turnout.
If granted, the proposed Special Use Permit would allow the construction of an open air shooting range on the southwest 2 acres of their 105 acres which is zoned A-1.
A strongly polarized crowd attended the meeting and 68 people signed up to speak. At issue were the property rights of the Durrers vs. the concern of over 300 homeowners in a two mile radius and whether the shooting range would change the character of the community. The allowance of a shooting range is allowed only with a Special Use Permit in A-1, Agriculture districts.
Director/Zoning Administrator Bart Svoboda outlined the request with the main points being the range is to be located .2 of a mile for Route 33, close to multiple residential areas and generating a Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) estimated 350 trips per week.
In presenting his proposal, Durrer indicated he had been contacted by the Greene County Economic Development Authority last September and encouraged to pursue the project. He indicated there are no existing ranges in Greene and he believes he has met all the requirements of a Special Use Permit. Durrer also said he has contacted several expert companies to help with the design of the range. Further, he estimated the economic benefit to the county of over $90,000 per month and he had a letter from Commissioner of Revenue, Larry Snow, that nothing built in the county in 28 years has caused property values to decline. And finally, he believes the noise escaping the range will be no louder than the ambient noise surrounding the range.
In summary, Durrer stated he believes he has exceeded the special use permit requirements. He asked the Board not to default to NIMBY outcries. And finally when he asked supporters of the shooting range to stand – nearly half of the audience stood.
The public hearing with the 63 speakers being split 14 for and 49 against. Speakers ranged from children speaking out of fear to military experts. The theme coming from the majority of those against the range was they didn’t oppose it per se, but they opposed the specific location of an open shooting range. In fact, many of those against this request were shooters in favor of a range in Greene County, just not in the location in Ruckersville.
Those in favor of the range stressed that there is no range in Greene to shoot at and as a result many shoot at targets on trees with no buffer to catch stray bullets. A range would be a much safer environment for the county and provide training for shooters as well as a local training facility for the Sheriff’s Dept. Related, Sheriff Steve Smith spoke in favor of the application.
Many of those opposed to the range in Ruckersville stated they had made extensive searches in central Virginia where to retire to and chose Greene County due to its relative low cost of living and the tranquil setting while still being relatively close to shopping, restaurants, etc. Several indicated had they known the shooting range might be located in Ruckersville they would not have bought their home there.
Attorney Michael Derdeyn, representing a group against the range, spoke to the legality of the issue and urged the Board to do the same in their decision making. By definition, a shooting range is not a by right use allowed in A-1 and it must have a Special Use Permit to allow it. The statue requires that the Board of Supervisors look to see if the shooting range would change the character of the area – in this case, he believes it does.
One of the major issues of those opposed to the Special Use Permit being granted was the range would lower the values of their homes – in some cases, a large portion of their life savings. Others argued that other ranges have not lowered the value of homes near the range. A key issue brought up is what came first – the shooting range or the homes? In most cases the shooting range was built in the country and then homes were built near the range – the point being that the market set the price of the homes given the knowledge of a range being close. However, in this case, homes in several neighborhoods were built with no thought of a shooting range being in the area. Logically, the building of a range after the market had set the price at one level, would, as several realtors spoke, significantly reduce property values.
The 45th speaker, Jenny Strange, pointed out what she believed clearly would disallow the open air shooting range. In the Agricultural (A-1) District, the following are the only uses that can be granted by Special Use Permit. Note item #8 which states “Indoor” shooting ranges. The range that the Durrer’s are seeking is an “open’ shooting range. So, by code, the range could not be allowed – see the list of uses allowed by Special Use Permit in A-1……
4-1-2 Uses Permitted by Special Use Permit
Same as Conservation C-1 plus:
.1 Temporary or permanent dwellings for farm workers, where the land’s primary use meets the
definition of general or high intensity agriculture.
.2 Commercial kennels, as defined in Article 22 and subject to the provisions of Section 4-11 and where
the kennel is at least 300 feet from the closest adjoining property line. (Revised 5/12/09)
.3 Veterinary clinics and veterinary hospitals.
.4 Volunteer fire and rescue facilities.
.5 Commercial warehouses for bulk agricultural products.
.6 Private airports and heliports.
.7 Dinner theaters and outdoor performance spaces where the seating capacity does not exceed 500
.8 Indoor shooting ranges.
.9 Country clubs, community centers, swimming, tennis, golf, fishing, and gun clubs and similar uses.
.10 Carnivals, fairs and circuses — temporary only. (Revised 1/11/05)
.11 Commercial cemeteries and memorial parks.
.12 Child care centers.
.13 Hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, and rehabilitation centers.
.14 Adult day-care centers.
.15 Meeting places for clubs, fraternal and civic organizations.
.16 Home businesses, as defined.
.17 Extraction and processing of natural resources for commercial use.
.18 Garden centers.
.19 Observation Tower–In addition to the criteria listed in 16-2, the Planning Commission shall consider the following in its review of Special Use Permit requests for Observation Towers; lighting, security & access, distance from the nearest hard surface road or state maintained road, size of the parcel on which the tower is to be built and construction materials and design of the tower. (9/25/01)
.20 Outdoor Recreational Facilities. (adopted 1/8/02)
.21 Mulch production facility. (Revised 1/11/05)
.22 Group home or home for developmentally disabled persons (per Code of Virginia.) (Revised 1/11/05)
.23 Residential Accessory Structure—greater than 768 square feet (Revised 8/18/05)
****Clarification 10/19 – The first line in this section of code references “Same as Conservation C-1 plus:” — as open air ranges ARE permitted by Special Use Permit in C-1 Districts so they are also permitted by SUP in A-1 — The Free Enterprise Forum regrets any confusion — Neil Williamson Editor *****
About 2/3rd of the way through the public speakers, Marie Durrer – retired Circuit Court Clerk of Greene County, spoke that there had been no complaints about shooting on her property until the hearings started. Her family has a right to pursue this business. It is safe and controlling an activity for the county and it will have a positive impact to Greene by generating additional tax revenue.
The Supervisors then considered the request. Supervisor Bill Martin said he visited the property and he asked Durrer if the design he is proposing exists anywhere in the country. Durrer stated that one is being built in California. Martin pointed out that when the Special Use Permit for the store was granted it specifically stated that no gun range would be allowed in the future.
Supervisor Davis Lamb pointed out that the SUP regulations allowed in A-1 can only be granted for indoor facilities and open facilities are not listed. Supervisor Eddie Deane went to the property and spoke with Troy Accoustics about the level of sound and was told that 70 DB’s is what should be expected outside the range.
Martin thanked all the citizens that spoke and for the over 100 contacts related to this issue. It is obvious that we need a range in Greene County but we need it to be safe. However, when Big Iron received their SUP for their store they were specifically told that a range would not be allowed. Further, per Article 16-2, issuing a Special Use Permit cannot change the character of the area which he believes the range would do.
Supervisor Jim Frydl then spoke and he told the audience that the applicants were in their rights to ask for the hearing. He also pointed out that a SUP goes with the land not with the owner of the land. So even if the Durrers later sold the land, the SUP would stay in effect. For him, the letters from multiple developers stating that the range would negatively impact the property values in the area was a key issue.
Deane challenged the issue of changing the characteristic of an area. His example is the addition of Tractor Supply in front of the residential community on Route 33 west of Ruckersville. This property was developed as a mixed use parcel and the addition of commercial property in front was in the original design that the home owners knew would occur when they built their homes.
Lamb spoke to the range in Yorktown, Va. and that the range was built first before homes were built around the range. Chairman David Cox then spoke to the fact that the county would be safer having a shooting range rather than having individuals firing all around the county and he supported the range.
Finally, Supervisor Lamb made a motion, going into great detail of state and local code to support the motion, to deny the Special Use Permit request with the main point being that the shooting range would change the neighborhood per Section 16-2aSection 16-2a . Frydl seconded the motion and he, Lamb and Martin voted in favor while Cox and Deane voted against the motion to disallow the Special Use Permit.
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