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Zoning board upholds decision that permits backyard gun range

Neighbors who testified were sworn in at the start of a Zoning Board of Adjustment meeting on Monday. Neighbors who testified were sworn in at the start of a Zoning Board of Adjustment meeting on Monday.

Although they may be annoying and intimidating, gunshots from a backyard shooting range are beyond the reach of regulation in Henderson County, the county’s Zoning Board of Adjustment decided after an emotionally charged 3½-hour hearing on Monday.


Meeting in person at Thomas Auditorium, zoning board members voted unanimously to uphold the decision of code enforcement director Toby Linville, who had ruled that a gun range on a vacant 9.7-acre parcel in Edneyville was not a commercial facility requiring a special-use permit under the county’s land development code (LDC).
Forty-five people who were spread far apart in the auditorium had been greeted at the hall’s entrance by 10 sheriff’s Kevlar-deputies, who remained throughout the four-hour meeting to ensure order.
The subject of the hearing was a shooting range built by Travis Rector on land he owns with his wife, Virginia “Ginney” Fox Rector, off Osprey Lane north of Point Lookout Vineyards. A former Hendersonville police officer, Rector owns a gunsmithing and firearms training business, although he testified he conducts no training at the gun range on his property.
After receiving a complaint about the shooting range in December 2019, Linville visited the property and found what he described as “an outdoor shooting range for private use.” The shooting range is made up of an earthen berm backstop, strings for targets and a storage building for chairs and targets. There is no road access to the range. “You have to walk or take an ATV,” Linville said. While he was on site, he spotted two more shooting range backstops on adjoining property, he said.
The county would identify a shooting range as a business if it included things like advertising, signage, structures, parking, public access and hours of operation, Linville said under questioning from the attorney representing the gun range opponents.
“Although the definition of a shooting range is vague in the LDC, it is not Henderson County’s position to regulate small backyard shooting ranges as if they were public businesses,” he said in an answer to an attorney’s questions last September.

‘Horses were terrified’

Asheville attorney Brian Gulden filed an appeal of Linville’s ruling on Sept. 24 on behalf of neighboring homeowners Whitney Wright, Barry Fleisher, James Jolly and Joseph and Maureen Davidson.
During the zoning board hearing Monday, Wright described the “very loud gunshots” that she said intimidated her, terrified her rescue horses and devalued her property. Asked whether the shooting range limited how she could use her property, she said she had built a $4,000 shed on a two-acre pasture where she had planned to graze horses. “I cannot keep horses there anymore,” she said “Horses were terrified. I definitely have a reduction in fair market value. … Houses have been selling like hotcakes but not mine.” She said someone had fired shots on Sunday night, the eve of the zoning case. She played a recording of three gunshots “from inside my house with the door shut.”
Gulden asked, What are your concerns?
“Obviously safety,” she said. “Every person that drives down there sees eight of these signs on other people’s property (warning of a recreational shooting range). I’m concerned for my own animals, I’m concerned for myself, I’m concerned for my children. … When you hear a noise that loud in your proximity, it’s very threatening.”
Wright and others testified that neighborhood covenants in the Mitchell View Estates subdivision exist to restrict noise but no one recalled any effort to enforce them.
Shawn Bartlett testified that she visited the Wright property several times and was ready to buy.
“We had a small cabin in Saluda and we were looking for a mini-farm for goats and horses and dogs,” she said. “It was absolutely gorgeous. It had everything we needed. We did note the signs and we had some questions about that that we had our Realtor convey. They said they were going to be working to make sure that the zoning was upheld. I thought the way I read it, I’m OK making an offer.”
On a visit over Labor Day, however, she heard gunshots going off for “probably 10 to 15 minutes” and got spooked. Although she had put down earnest money, she withdrew her offer to purchase.
Jolly, another appellant, recalled a conversation with Rector and another neighbor in which Rector talking about his plans for the gun range.
“When he was describing building the range, he talked about using an excavator to carve up a big area in the side of the mountain,” said Jolly, of Bald Ridge Road. “They cleared out 30 feet or something.”
Fleischer, another appellate, is retired from practicing and teaching law. He testified that if the land development code is “read upon its face the way that it is written,” then the county would have to interpret Rector’s gun range as a regulated facility requiring a special-use permit. A shooting range, the land development code says, is “a facility designed or used for archery and/or the discharging of firearms for the purposes of target practice or temporary competitions.”
“It just says what it says,” Fleisher asserted. “You cannot change that.”
Gulden seconded the point. He noted that while the land development code distinguishes commercial and noncommercial uses of some activities, such as miniature golf, the code makes no such distinction for gun ranges.

‘This is life in the mountains’

The attorneys for Rector, Ryan Bradley and Doug Pearson, called other neighbors who drew a sharply contrasting picture, one where private shooting is common, where homeowners tolerate the occasional target practice and where gun rights are sacred.

David Oates, a friend and neighbor, said he helped Rector build the shooting range. Oates, who has worked as a law officer with the N.C. Department of Public Safety for 30 years, sold the property where the gun range is located to the Rectors in 2019. Oates and Rector after him testified that the gun range is not open to the public, does not advertise, is not for use by paying customers and is not used for competitions.
Although he owns a gunsmithing shop, teaches conceal-carry courses and runs a tactical training business called Overwatch, no training takes place at his private gun range, Rector said.
Bradley, his attorney, asked him if he was the one who had been target practicing last Labor Day. He said that was impossible.
“I was dealing with my dog that had gotten run over,” he said. “She’s a three-legged border collie, and she was in ICU.”
Bradley asked whether it was possible for stray bullets to travel toward Whitney Wright’s property.
“My back would be to her property so at no point are we ever sideways or facing her property whatsoever,” Rector said.
He said in addition to a gun range, the vacant land is used for picnics, church gatherings and other social activities. He’s currently building a home on the property.
Ron Kauffman, the chair of the Zoning Board of Adjustment, had to caution another witness for Rector, Charles “Chuck” Bethman, to refrain from making personal attacks on Wright, who was the lead appellate.
“This is just a vendetta against Travis,” Bethman said, before Kauffman warned him to “leave her out of the equation.”
“I’m sorry everybody has to be here tonight,” Bethman said later. “It’s no more than a vendetta out of three people that live in our subdivision against Travis and Ginney. You couldn’t ask for nicer people.”
During a public comment period, six homeowners spoke in favor of the code enforcement decision and urged the Zoning Board of Adjustment to uphold it.

“I feel that moving into this area — this is how it’s been for centuries,” Maria Kaiser said. “This is how life is in the mountains and you have to accept it.”
Zoning Board members expressed similar sentiments and also worried that subjecting every backyard range to special-use permit requirements would be impractical and burdensome. Kauffman, the chairman, said it was regrettable neighbors had become so unneighborly and admonished everyone for failing to make use of restrictive covenants.
“If you’re not going to use your covenants, you might as well tear them down,” he said.