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The idea of a gun range in Jefferson County is one that keeps surfacing, its latest manifestation at a recent Monticello City Council meeting.
On Tuesday evening, Sept. 3, Mike Robinson, of Robinson Gunworks LLC, approached city officials about the possibility of converting the vacant building at 705 S. Water St. that formerly served as an auto repair shop and then an awning manufacturing operation into an indoor gun range.
The building, which is currently undergoing renovation, was rezoned late last year as a light industry limited-use district, which allows some manufacturing and assembly, packaging, finishing of manufactured components, and treating or repairing of products, provided that the activities are carried on completely within the structure and involve no permanent outside storage of equipment or materials.
An indoor gun range is not one of the allowed uses in the limited use district, meaning that the ordinance's language would have to be amended to allow it.
“We don't have anything in our ordinance that regulates gun ranges,” said City Attorney Bruce Leinback, adding that although state law preempted firearm control, gun ranges were still within the purview of local governments.
It was his opinion, however, that the Water Street property was probably the most reasonable site for such a facility, were the city to allow it.
“But our ordinance would have to be amended to authorize gun ranges,” Leinback said. “The current zoning is limited to the uses that are enumerated. This would add another use to the restrictions.”
Robinson mentioned that the National Rifle Association (NRA) would assist in planning and developing the indoor gun range and would possibly help with the liability insurance.
Councilman Troy Avera said that he had no problem per se with an indoor gun range at the site, provided that noise from the firing of guns didn't disturb the nearby residents.
“I have no issue with the range itself, but we have to look at what impact it might have on the neighbors,” Avera said. “I don't have a problem with guns, but to some people, guns can be an issue.”
Robinson assured the council that safety shouldn't be a problem, as the gun range would be done in accordance with NRA standards.
“It would have to be completed by NRA rules so that bullets couldn't leave the building,” he said.
As for noise, he currently test fired guns at his facility at 535 S. Jefferson St. and he had heard no complaints from the neighbors, he said. The facility's neighbors are the Church of Christ on one side, Piggly Wiggly Food Outlet on the other, and Monticello Milling across the street.
Leinback suggested that Robinson submit a formal application for an amendment to the building's restricted uses for consideration by the Local Planning Agency (LPA), which would then make a recommendation to the City Council. He suggested that Robinson also submit the NRA guidelines with the application for the planners' review.
The LPA was scheduled to review and discuss the indoor gun range on Wednesday evening, Sept. 18.
The 2.5-acre property and building on Water Street has a long history, dating from its days as a bus barn for the school district. The district eventually sold the property after moving its bus fleet to the Boland Building on S. Jefferson Street. The old bus barn then served as an auto repair shop and later as an awning manufacturing operation, both nonconforming uses, as the property was zoned agricultural and educational.
Last year, the owner tried to rectify the problem by petitioning the council to have the property rezoned from agricultural/educational to industrial. The request nearly succeeded, before opposition torpedoed it, given that the building's proximity to a school, library, teen center, ecological park and residences.
The compromise the council reached was to rezone the property to a light industry limited-use district with a set of stipulated restrictions.
“Light industry,” according to the language of the ordinance, “shall not be interpreted to include an industry, the operations of which would cause danger of fire or explosion or result in objectionable vibration, noise, smoke, fumes, odor, dust, gas fumes, chemicals, radiation or other waste materials which would constitute nuisance or which would be adversely affect other private or public properties.”
Others of the restrictions, per the ordinance: operational hours of are limited to 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday; refuse containers and dumpsters can not be stored in front of any principal structure; onsite lighting must be directed inward into the site and away from adjacent properties; and ground, free-standing signage is not allowed.