Council paves way for firing range
By Frank Ruggiero
You may fire when ready.
The Boone Town Council adopted a code amendment Thursday to allow weapons and paintball guns to be fired within town limits, as long as such discharge occurs in an approved indoor facility.
The code amendment was made per request of Richard Franklin, president of Atlantic Plan Engineering Corporation, on behalf of Charles Ulery, who hopes to build a carwash/paintball range/indoor firing range.
If the project is ultimately approved, the multi-use center would be located at 1474 N.C. 105 in Boone, near Watauga High School.
Franklin has appeared before council for months now. Ulery’s request has continuously been tabled until the next month’s meeting.
Their persistence has paid off for the time being, however, after the council took the first step in making Ulery’s request a reality. At September’s council meeting, Franklin provided an extensive document from the National Rifle Association detailing shooting range safety regulations and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requirements.
Town attorney Sam Furgiuele drafted language for the municipal code amendments to Section 114.34(B) relating to indoor shooting ranges, stating that firearms may only be discharged within fully enclosed and indoor shooting ranges, built and operated in compliance with the state building code, the town’s Unified Development Ordinance, the Federal Occupational Health and Safety Act, the National Fire Protection Association standards, North Carolina Fire Code, “and such other laws and regulations as may be established or exist which dictate the construction and operational standards which an indoor shooting range must meet.”
The code upholds its original provisions, including one that bars residents from discharging any air rifle, air pistol, B-B gun or similar weapon within 100 yards of any building, house or gathering of people in town.
However, they may now do so in a fully enclosed and indoor facility adhering to the standards listed above.
Furgiuele wrote that no such facility may exist in town limits unless its proprietor submits rules concerning employee and invitee or licensee use of the indoor shooting range to the chief of police, and that the police chief has issued a written “opinion that said rules adequately protect the safety of the public, and those rules are fully implemented and enforced.”
At Thursday’s meeting, Franklin said although he was making the request then, he understood that any such amendment must go through a public hearing.
Furgiuele told him that in terms of the language he drafted, it would not require a public hearing, though council could always hold one if members should so wish.
He reminded Franklin that the text has an effective date of March 31, 2006, allowing the Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) to be amended after a public hearing held in February.
Furgiuele told council if they adopted the amendment, it would simply be the first step in green-lighting Ulery’s project.
Then, however, council would have to decide on what zoning districts would be appropriate for a firing range. The request also raised question about whether or not there are limitations on such a project regarding proximity to churches and schools. Furgiuele said council would need factual evidence on any such limitations.
He said Boone Police Chief Bill Post’s preliminary report indicates that communities with indoor shooting ranges have had no real problems, but that he hadn’t heard anything regarding proximity to churches and schools.
Council member Bunk Spann told Franklin that his inclination is “to try to find a way for a legitimate business opportunity here.” He continued, saying he’d also like to find a way council could approve a project in a way that protects health and safety of the community, while preventing pollution and health hazards.
Regarding emissions, Franklin told how the ventilation system would be state-of-the-art, with lead emissions being strained through a filter to an acceptable level.
Council member Lynne Mason said she felt council would need to take this to public hearing, so community concerns could be weighed into the decision.
“Before I vote, we need a public hearing,” she said.
Mayor pro tem Loretta Clawson agreed, saying she’d prefer a public hearing, especially considering the zoning situation. Mayor Velma Burnley asked, if amending the code is only a first step, what would be the purpose behind a public hearing. Burnley asked Furgiuele what the first step entailed.
Furgiuele said the language was drafted because municipal code currently prevents firearms from being discharged in the town limits, and that the draft is the first step in granting approval for Ulery’s other request for water and sewer service for his property.
However, he said the Boone Development Services Department could not issue services to Ulery or deal with an application for a building permit until the end of March if council amended the code.
“This could be a change to our code for consideration, but not an approval for the project,” council member Graydon Eggers said. Eggers moved that the code change be approved, and Spann seconded. Council member Dempsey Wilcox asked if the language would be adopted as written, and if council has the discretion to send something to public hearing.
“If we vote ‘yes,’ it’s in the code,” he said.
Eggers recommended approval of the code amendment on the condition it may be modified pending comments from a public hearing. Mason offered a friendly amendment to clarify that the text has an effective date of March 31, 2006, and that council would have the amendment reviewed by planning staff and that it will still go to public hearing to later be modified or appealed.
Eggers accepted the friendly amendment, and the motion carried unanimously.
Ulery’s request for water and sewer service, however, was tabled until March. Clawson said she had a hard time making a decision on the matter until council knew whether or not Ulery’s requested use could take place on the property.
Ulery requested 1,609 gallons per day from the town’s 2006 water allocation. The car wash, Franklin explained, would use and recycle well water, therefore not detracting from town water.
The request was tabled in a 4-1 vote, with Wilcox casting the dissenting vote.