Supporters of plans for an outdoor gun range in Ruckersville say their project will provide a safe place for residents to shoot weapons, as well as provide extra tax money for Greene County.
Opponents, however, say the proposed location is a safety and environmental hazard that will lead to increased noise pollution and lower property values – and they’re prepared to sue to stop the gun range from being built if it gets passed.
The Greene County Planning Commission will hold a public hearing at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 19, to hear a request by Ellis Lyle Durrer/Ellis and Virginia Durrer for a special-use permit for an outdoor shooting range on approximately 2 acres of a 105-acre tract zoned for agriculture near 15337 Spotswood Trail.
Since the hearing is expected to draw a crowd of several hundred people, it will be held in William Monroe High School’s Raymond C. Dingledine III Performing Arts Center in Stanardsville. The debate on the gun range is the only item on the Planning Commission’s agenda that night.
The application states that a portion of the lanes would allow shooting of up to 25 yards, while others will be up to 50 yards. The application indicates the proposed range will have 8-foot-high concrete walls with bullet traps consisting of steel and rubber, and a baffle system down range to prevent projectiles from exiting the range and muffle the sounds of gunfire.
But neighbors in the Godalming subdivision right next door to the proposed gun range say that the constant noise, as well as the site itself, will diminish their quality of life, as well as property values and Greene County’s tax base.
They have formed a group called Greene County Neighbors LLC and hired the Charlottesville-based law firm of Lenhart and Pettit to express their opposition to the plan.
In a letter to the Planning Commission, the Board of Supervisors and other Greene County staff, attorney Michael E. Derdeyn stated that granting a special-use permit for the gun range would violate the county’s zoning ordinance. The group specifically said the purpose of the ordinance is not to change the character or established pattern of development for an area, and that a special use should not adversely affect the use of neighboring property.
“The Application for the Outdoor Shooting Range fails to satisfy any of these guidelines,” Derdeyn stated in comments submitted on the proposal, adding: “My client intends to vigorously oppose the Outdoor Shooting Range through all legal means.”
But Lyle Durrer, who owns the Big Iron Outdoors gun store along with his wife, Tammy, said he has more than 700 people who have signed a petition for the gun range. The Durrers included approximately 500 signatures in the documentation provided to Planning and Zoning, and said they have gathered another 200 signatures since.
Those signatures and letters of support include Sheriff Steve Smith and At-Large School Board member Troy Harlow, as well as Steve Keene, who provides concealed-weapons and firearms safety programs for the Greene County Sheriff’s Office. (Keene also is running for Greene County Circuit Court clerk.)
“It will be an added bonus for the community for firearms safety training for local law enforcement to train and qualify at this facility,” Tammy Durrer said Sunday, adding that they expect Scouts, 4-H and church groups to use the shooting range as well. “It’s not just for someone to come out and shoot, which we want, but it’s also a community outreach. It’s a safe environment.”
Neighbors in Godalming subdivision, with houses that sell for $500,000 or more, said the proposed gun range doesn’t need to be that close to an established neighborhood. “We’re for a gun range in Greene County,” resident Mike Collins said Sunday. “It’s the wrong design and the wrong direction.”
Lyle Durrer said that “safety is the No. 1 factor,” stating that they’re working with several different companies and organizations and have spent “several thousand” dollars so far. “I understand some of the concerns, but we’re trying to make this above and beyond what it needs to be.”
He said that measures will be taken to minimize noise.
“We can mitigate that sound by designing the range accordingly,” he said. “I don’t think anybody a mile away is going to hear it. We want to assure people everything is going to be safe.”
The design calls for a “no blue sky” range, meaning shooters at the stations firing down range cannot see blue sky.
The proposed range will give people who have been doing their shooting in a subdivision “a safe, nice shooting range,” Lyle Durrer added.
According to documentation provided to Planning and Zoning, 340 homes are within a 1-mile radius and 160 are within a half-mile radius of the proposed location along U.S. 33 northwest of Ruckersville.
Collins said that based on conservative estimates, at least one million rounds a year — and as much as five million rounds — could be fired from the proposed range. “The noise is a huge concern,” he said.
Collins said that while the claim has been made that the sound of gunfire is no louder than a barking dog, approximately 8,000 rounds a day would fired next door to his property. “Do you want to hear a dog barking 8,000 times a day,” he said rhetorically.
Collins said he wants to work with the Durrers to come up with an amicable solution, including having an indoor range. “I prefer an indoor range; they’re safer,” Collins said. “It’s not about a gun issue. It’s all about the location.
“We’re not a bunch of liberal, anti-gun nuts running around with signs,” said Collins, adding that he’s a member of the National Rifle Association.
Lyle Durrer said the proposed open-air gun range “will be good for this county. I think it will bring in revenue.” Durrer’s application stated he will be investing more than $500,000 in the gun range and estimated that 350 customers a week would use the facility, bringing in $4,536 a year in sales-tax revenue based on spending at the range and nearby locations.
Lance Pickett, who lives in the Godalming neighborhood as well, said the proposed gun range would lower property values by 30 percent. “Our property values are going to get devalued,” he said Sunday. Greene County Neighbors LLC, in its documentation to the Planning Commission, claims that the county could lose $300,000 in tax revenue each year.
“We’ll want to leave, and there’s no buyer,” Pickett said. “… Greene County can’t afford to lose that kind of money.”
The Durrers said they’re trying to meet a demand that’s been mentioned to them since they opened Big Iron Outdoors in November 2011. “That’s the No. 1 question in the shop. People come in and ask, ‘where can we shoot at around here,’” Lyle Durrer said, stating that the closest public shooting range is an hour away. “As a business owner, you’ve got to listen to your customers.
“My house is the closest to [the proposed range],” he said. “We need to make this a community range. This needs to be done right.” After next week’s hearing before the Planning Commission, “I get a feeling some of those [opposing it] will change their minds.”
“From an ordinance standpoint, we’re even baffled why it’s gotten this far,” Collins said.