- Special Sections
- Public Notices
The Bedford County Planning Commission unanimously gave a thumbs down to a request by Timothy Hooper to operate a shooting range on his farm in the New London area.
Hooper had requested that a portion of his farm, previously zoned R-2 (medium density residential), be rezoned to AP (agricultural preserve) to allow him to operate a shooting range on the property. A shooting range is a permitted use in an AP zone with a special use permit. At the same time, he sought a special use permit to operate the range.
The planning commission gave a unanimous vote against the rezoning request in October and tabled the special use permit request pending receipt of a report from the sheriff’s office. They later chose to wait until sound tests could be done. Last month, the board of supervisors voted 5-1 to approve the rezoning.
According to Mark Jordan, a planner, the sheriff’s office gave a favorable report on the range. Based on the report, Jordan said that planning staff had added conditions, one of which limited the caliber of weapons to .223 caliber. This is the caliber of the AR-15 and M-16.
Hooper said that he conducted sound tests in two neighborhoods and on the access road at New London Academy. The access road is 1,100 feet from the range and was the closest point that anybody, who is not already on his property, can get to the range. He said that tests were conducted with both handgun ammunition and hunting caliber rifles. The handgun shots did not register on the sound meter and the rifle shots came in between four and six dB higher than background noise.
During discussion, District 5 planning commissioner Steve Stevick questioned County Attorney Carl Boggess on his advice to the board of supervisors last month that rezoning Hooper’s property did not constitute spot zoning. Boggess replied that courts defer to legislative will if some public purpose or use is derived from the rezoning. He cited a case that went to the Virginia Supreme Court that involved the rezoning of eight acres, much smaller than the 21-acre section of Hooper’s property that was rezoned. He said the court upheld the rezoning as a legitimate exercise of legislative will.
District 4 planning commissioner Frederic Fralick said that the decision was a hard call. On the one hand, it fulfills a need, but on the other hand it’s close to a school. This creates a situation with both positive and negative aspects.
“I lean more toward the negative side,” he said.
District 6 planning commissioner Derrick Noell also expressed concern about the proximity to a school. He said that he had spoken to area law enforcement agencies and was told that, at every range they have been to, a round has escaped from the range at some time.
“I too am concerned about the area in general,” said Lynn Barnes, who added that he would prefer to have the range at a more remote location.
“It seems law enforcement would have somewhere else to do this,” said Chairman Curtis Stephens.
Final authority on the special use permit rests with the board of supervisors.
Prior to the regular meeting, Steve Stevick announced that he will not seek reappointment to the planning commission. He provided a copy of a letter he sent to District 5 Supervisor Steve Arrington tendering his resignation. At issue was the supervisors’ decision, last year, to modify the existing zoning ordinance rather than work from the draft of a new zoning ordinance that the planning commission had presented them. Stevick’s letter states that the draft ordinance was the product of years of effort and input from the public along with the professional input of county staff and consultants. The planning commission unanimously recommended it.
“We all know the result,” Stevick wrote. “What is not clear is why.”
Stevick criticized the supervisors’ effort as being rushed through with a minimum of public input. He wrote that the supervisors “propose to put the county on the fast track to development, the fewer controls the better.”
He wrote that the supervisors “pushed ahead with a dog-eat-dog form of zoning, dumbing down and mixing the various districts in the name of civil liberties (Do what you want with your own land, your neighbor be damned!) and, of course, in the interest of being business friendly.” Stevick predicted that the supervisors’ effort will have unintended negative consequences.
Stevick made his resignation effective the end of his current term, which expires in early February, or as soon as his replacement can be identified and appointed.
While the planning commission held its meeting, the board of supervisors met in a work session on the zoning ordinance. The supervisors plan to eliminate a proposed change that would have combined the R-1 (low density residential) and R-2 districts into one zone. These will remain two separate zones.