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.