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Planning Board: Private gun ranges OK countywide

Planning Board members Rick Livingston, Steve Dozier, Jim Miller and Trey Ford are shown discussing zoning regulations for shooting ranges. Planning Board members Rick Livingston, Steve Dozier, Jim Miller and Trey Ford are shown discussing zoning regulations for shooting ranges.

Rebecca McCall has a vivid memory of gunfire that just missed going terribly wrong.


“I was about 10. I was in the backyard, playing basketball or something,” McCall, a county commissioner, Planning Board members last week. A next door neighbor chasing a dog fired a shot. “That bullet went right past my head,” she recalled. “I can still hear it today.”
A near-miss notwithstanding, neither McCall, the county commission’s liaison to the Planning Board, nor any of the advisory board members was willing to take a stand against shooting by homeowners on their land as long as they used firearms safely. The Planning Board’s action last week came as it fast-tracked a fix to the county’s land development ordinance, which was exposed as ambiguous during a Zoning Board of Adjustment case on March 15. In that case, a neighbor who grazes rescue horses on her land appealed a ruling by the county’s code enforcement officer that the county would not stop a landowner from shooting targets at a gun range on his property in Edneyville near Point Lookout Vineyards.
“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,” Toby Linville, the code enforcement officer, told an attorney representing homeowners opposed to a shooting range last September.
After discussing shooting ranges and how they should be regulated for about an hour and a half Wednesday, the Planning Board voted unanimously to send commissioners a recommendation allowing private shooting ranges in all five of the county’s residential zoning categories and in retail, commercial and industrial zones. Gun ranges would be allowed in every zoning district, provided the people using them don’t fire shots that leave their property.
John Mitchell, the county’s director of Business and Community Development, said the Planning Board’s recommendation aligned with commissioners’ desire to make sure the ordinance did not get the zoning regulators into the business of policing private gun ranges.
“To be a shooting range it had to be commercial in nature because the Second Amendment and state law protects people shooting in their backyard,” he said. “The Board of Commissioners sent that draft language to the Planning Board for them to look at and clarify that language” that defines shooting ranges.
The Planning Board voted to revise the existing language for a shooting range by adding that for it to be a shooting range” it had to involve “money changing hands for use of the shooting range,” Mitchell said.
The county’s residential zones are R4 (four units per acre), R2 and R2R (one unit per acre), R2R (one unit per 1½ acre) and R-4 (one unit per 5 acres). One option for residential zones was to require a special-use permit for smaller lot zoning or to prohibit private ranges there altogether. “I just don’t see how see how we can permit it in R-1” on quarter-acre lots, said board Chair Steve Dozier, a real estate agent.
But other members supported the most permissible option.
“All this came about because of a single incident in Edneyville on top of a mountain,” Rick Livingston said. “I don’t think any small group of citizens in Henderson County should be allowed to penalize everyone in Henderson County who happens to be in an R-1 or R-2 zone. I just don’t agree with that.”
The county’s weapons ordinance, adopted several years ago, regulates non-commercial sport shooting on private property.
“Basically the weapons ordinance deals with using firearms in a dangerous fashion, where projectiles are traveling across other people’s property,” Mitchell said.
Along with the Planning Board’s recommended text amendment, the planning staff intends to forward a request that commissioners set a public hearing on the proposed changes. Commissioners will likely set a hearing at their April 5 meeting, possibly for the May 19 commissioners meeting.