Shooting Range

More than 230 people came to the Frederick County Administration Building on Wednesday night for a public hearing on a conditional-use permit request for a commercial shooting range on Valley Pike (U.S. 11).

WINCHESTER — A proposed commercial outdoor shooting range has some Frederick County residents upset.

About 230 people packed a Frederick County Planning Commission meeting on Wednesday night for a public hearing on a conditional-use permit (CUP) application that would allow a shooting range at 6519 Valley Pike (U.S. 11), about 2 miles north of Middletown. The 34-acre site, located immediately southeast of the intersection of Valley Pike and Vaucluse Road and west of Interstate 81, is owned by Ann and Richard Russell. Travis Dodson, owner of Middletown Firearms at 7609 Main St. in Middletown, plans to buy the property and open a shooting range, if the Board of Supervisors approves his CUP request. Middletown Firearms will stay at its current location, regardless of whether the application is approved.

The Planning Commission ultimately decided to postpone voting on its recommendation to the Board of Supervisors for 60 days so that Dodson can address concerns raised by neighbors.

The panel’s decision was made after about 40 people spoke during a public hearing. Most of the speakers were against having a commercial shooting range in the area, including several members of the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Shenandoah Valley, which is located across Valley Pike from the range’s proposed site. Although the range would be closed during the church’s Sunday morning service, members fear the sound of gunfire would be detrimental to other church activities, such as weddings, funerals, counseling sessions and spiritual gatherings. A church board member said the noise could cause the church to lose members and financial support. Another member told the planners, “We require a place of peace and safety so we can experience the divine and grow on our spiritual journey.”

Winchester City Council member Evan Clark, who attends the church, said that while churches don’t pay property tax, they still have an economic impact on the community.

Back Creek District resident Shell Fischer, another church member, called the proposal “a radically inappropriate planning choice.”

Others commended Dodson and his employees for being responsible gun owners, saying there’s a need for a shooting range in the Stephens City/Middletown area.

“I understand that some people’s idea of tranquility is silence,” said Gainesboro District resident Michelle Wells. “Mine happens to be gunfire. When I hear gunfire, I know that I’m safe.”

Wells said her two teenage sons are fortunate to have land where they can practice shooting, but they have friends who have no place to practice and learn about being a responsible gun owner.

Dodson’s plan calls for four separate gun ranges with covered shooting bays:

A 25-yard range with eight shooting lanes and a concrete floor for tactical training

A 25-yard range with eight shooting lanes

A 50-yard range with six shooting lanes and

A 100-yard range with six shooting lanes

Each range would have side berms that are eight feet tall and six feet wide and a rear berm 16 feet in height. The plan also calls for constructing a classroom and storage building, restrooms, and a small check-in area where ammunition, targets and other supplies would be sold.

The CUP would allow the range to be open seven days a week. Hours would be restricted from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 1 to 6 p.m. Sunday. Shooting activities would require supervision by qualified personnel at all times.

County zoning ordinances say shooting must not occur within 1,000 feet of a residence and that berms and other features are required to protect the public from gunfire.

Dodson, who spoke during the public hearing, said the business would serve gun club members, firearms owners, firearm safety classes and local law enforcement personnel, who can pay an annual membership fee or a daily rental fee. He anticipates the range having 1,000 members and said there would probably be no more than 60 to 70 people on the property at a time.

Although shooting range rules would require firearms to be pointed down range at all times, some expressed concern that a person might shoot over the berms and put drivers on nearby I-81 at risk. Others were worried about the proposed range’s close proximity to Middletown Elementary School, Legacy Christian Academy and Lord Fairfax Community College. One man said he didn’t want children to become immune to the sound of gunfire, in case there was a school shooting.

Neighbors complained the range would cause their property values to go down, change the area’s character and make it difficult to sell their homes.

Karen Nelson, who lives less than a mile from the range’s proposed site, said the business would “destroy the quality of the neighborhood” and that the noise would decrease the quality of life for people who live nearby. She said she moved to the area for “peaceful tranquility” and that it “breaks her heart” to think how the sound of gunfire might affect elementary school students.

Evan Wyatt of Greenway Engineering, representing Dodson, said decibel readings were done at four different locations on the property to measure gunfire noise. Noise levels ranged from 55 to 80 decibels, depending on where the reading was done. He showed a slide comparing the noise to light traffic, conversational speech, toilet flushing, alarm clocks, dishwashers, vacuum cleaners and garbage disposals.

Commission member Gary Oates said many problems could be solved if Dodson built structures around the shooting range to make it enclosed. Commission member Roger Thomas said he wanted to see how Dodson would keep bullets from ricocheting outside of the immediate area. He said emphasizing the range’s training and how Dodson would supervise the shooting “will do a lot for the community.”

Commission member Christopher Mohn said a lot of information is still needed before he could make a favorable recommendation to the Board of Supervisors. He said Dodson will have to “go above and beyond” to show how the range will work.

Attending the meeting at the County Administration Building were Chairman Kevin Kenney and commission members Greg Unger, Lawrence Ambrogi, Paige Manuel, William Cline, Gary Oates, Roger Thomas, Robert Molden, Alan Morrison, Kay Dawson, Rhodes Marston and Christopher Mohn.

— Contact Josh Janney at jjanney@winchesterstar.com

(15) comments

LG

Be SURE to VOTE Nov. 5th. Your VOTE COUNTS. In 2017 Millholland, in his official role as our Sheriff fully and enthusiastically endorsed Governor Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring. Actually Lenny probably pushed AG Herring over the winning line since he only won by 165 VOTES (or 85 SWING VOTES) of the 2.2 MILLION VOTES in the ENTIRE STATE. Since 2013 (when Millholland endorsed Herring the first time) Life in Va has drastically changed for the worse. When Millholland endorsed Northam and Herring he helped erode our 2nd amendment rights, the sanctity of life of the unborn, the sanctity of marriage & the erosion of sound fiscal management. The voters need to hold him accountable for his actions. As they say, You can tell the true character of a man by the company he keeps!

comprmiz

Build an underground range and everybody wins. Drive 30 minutes to the 10X Freedom range in Berkeley Springs or the 340 Defense shooting range off Berryville pike. A quick search shows there are seven gun shooting ranges near Winchester. Go to the free shooting range in Sleepy Creek conservation area. Do you really have to build another gun range when so many other options are aleady available?

DavidSparkman

Since I am a snowflake and panic anytime someone disagrees with me, I should have the right to control other people's actions and activities for my pathetic phobias. My parents and grandparents were made of sterner stuff than me and they could tolerate others. Not me. If I don't get my way, I will yell and scream, and invent every reason I can dream of to stop those who are not of my clan - snowflake.

CRT

I'm Sparky. I think I should be able to do whatever I want, even if it ends others the right to peaceful enjoyment of their property. I believe that if you give middle/working class people money they will waste it on scams and trinkets. I'm a selfish elitist. I think vets with PTSD are pathetic. Don't be like Sparky!

Ping

I live out in the country (nowhere near a gun range) but gunshots are the norm around here with the woods and all. Those every-once-in-a-while shots are ok...but I couldn't I couldn't imagine living with a fusillade on a regular basis. You would certainly have to warn company ahead of time or have them diving under tables.

CRT

Some of those posting here don't give a thought to vets who suffer from PTSD. Or pet owners who must deal with the reactions of their animals to the noise from shooting. Some are not so lucky as to be able to pick up and move.

Linda James

I live where I can hear the conservation club near Gainsboro.I only hear gunfire if im outside and its not often.I have more neighbors who shoot fireworks and ride loud fourwheelers.That is constant and way more annoying.

JEngels

“I understand that some people’s idea of tranquility is silence. Mine happens to be gunfire. When I hear gunfire, I know that I’m safe.”

CRT

Yeah, that has to be one of the dumbest and most disturbing comments I've read. She should relocate to Syria or Iraq. It would be her nirvana.

Conservative

Why don't you move there? You seem to hate it here. A lot of folks would be happy to help you move.

CTJINVA

Did you just ASSume gender?

Gary

I live in Frederick Heights and the Shooting Range on Greenwood is a constant annoyance. My guest are always asking if someone is shooting fireworks. It's hard to enjoy my backyard without the feeling of living in a war zone.

Steve Cunningham

First off Gary the Frederick County Sheriff's Gun Range is on Sulphur Springs Road. It is utilized at the most once per week. Knowing that the gun range is located at that location should put your mind at ease. If you genuinely fear that you live in a war zone, then you may need to look into relocating. I am sure that the sirens from Greenwood Fire and Rescue Company trigger you paranoia as well. And I can't imagine what the Winchester Speedway noise does to you as well. I wonder if the livestock across the street from Frederick Heights make too much noise for you as well. Recess at the NREP school on Senseny Road must drive you bonkers. The wonderful bell music at St Paul's on the Hill must drive you insane since all of these noises are so much closer to you than the FC Sheriff Departments Gun Range.

A.J. MUNK

Steve, I don't know if the shooting range heard by Gary is the one on Sulphur Springs or not, but I can tell you that from my home in the 1st development off Greenwood north of Valley Mill, I can clearly hear what I've always assumed is a law-enforcement related range somewhere nearby, and it is most definitely in use more than once a week. My assumption that the range is in use by law enforcement is based on the manner in which it is used. It seems to be used almost exclusively by groups of shooters for maybe an hour at a time, some days there are two or three periods of fairly intense shooting separated by hours of silence, other days the shooting goes on for several hours without a break. The noise is such that, in my well-insulated house with all the windows and doors closed I can't hear a car drive by, but I can hear the shooting quite clearly every time. I'm a grown-up, so I'm not really bothered by it most of the time, but I am concerned for the children in the area who are growing up with the sound of fairly heavy gunfire in the distance as a regular occurrence in the soundtrack of their lives. That can't possibly be a good thing.

jake277

It's always not in my neighborhood but I guarentee neighbors will be members of the club.

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