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Editorial: Board made right decision in denying gun range permit 

It was better than a television drama show.

When the Davie County Board of Adjustments met last week to decide whether to issue a special use permit for a shooting range off Sheffield and Duke Whittaker roads near Mocksville, dozens of people sat on the edge of their seats waiting for the vote. Hundreds more watched on livestream from the comforts of their own homes.

But they had to wait.

First, the attorney went over some rules. Stomachs started turning.

And then Wayne Webb, chair of the board, started talking about extra conditions that should be added to the permit should it pass. Stomachs churned and faces grimaced. There were even a few audible moans.

Webb suggested that the Recoil Management Academy (applicant for the gun range) bylaws be included in the conditions. He also said the nearby Community Covenant Church should be able to give the range a 24-hour notice for funerals and special occasions when there would be no shooting. More audible moans. Then he said the company should be required to put up a bond for clean up, just in case it went out of business or bankrupt. People fidgeted in their seats.

But Webb had excellent suggestions — should the permit be issued.

Webb went on to say that evidence about property values declining was hearsay evidence, and shouldn’t be considered. He said that noise now heard from shooting should be reduced once the buildings and berms are in place. More moans, louder this time.

After a brief comment about the applicants hurting themselves with the neighbors, Webb went on to say that property owners — including those of Recoil — have rights to do as they please with their own property.

When other board members started asking questions, Webb sometimes intervened, telling one board member no evidence was presented that bullets had left the property of the proposed range. He also said that Recoil had presented a good case, and that the opponents gave little credible evidence.

The neighbors, who for a second time filled the socially-distanced Brock Performing Arts Center, didn’t like what they were hearing.

So when it came time for a vote, the mood was somber.

That quickly changed when the board unanimously voted to deny the request for the permit for a gun range.

What?

Maybe Webb was just trying to cover all of the bases, making sure the board looked at all evidence. Maybe he was wavering himself on which way to vote.

Either way, it was the right thing to do.

The whole ordeal revealed some potential flaws in the county zoning ordinance. For one, the definition of a shooting range is too simple and too broad. That definition didn’t match up with the proposed use. There’s probably not a definition in the ordinance that would match what Recoil Management Academy was proposing.

The board gave three reasons for denying the permit: that the use is not in harmony with the area, that it would endanger the public health and safety and that the use is not consistent with the Davie County Land Development Plan.

That first one is obvious. The range would be too close to homes — homes families have lived in for generations. A six-day-a-week shooting and training facility has no place going in next to established homes. People said it was too close to William R. Davie Elementary, but that was a bit of a stretch. Board members didn’t have to consider that to deny the range for being in harmony, or for being a danger. That came with bus stops at the nearby Sheffield-Calahaln Community Center, the church, and the fact that families use their land for recreational and educational purposes — both of which would be interrupted — possibly stopped — by a working shooting range.

The board made the right decision. It can be appealed to Superior Court, but I find it difficult to believe a court would find anything different. They could find a flaw with the proceedings, but I think that too, is unlikely.

Davie Development Services did a tremendous job of holding the meetings. They provided space for people who wanted to be there, plenty of security from the sheriff’s department, and even put it on livestream for others to see.

Webb, despite scaring the bejesus out of opponents of the range, did a commendable job running the meeting, as did the board attorney, Dan Womble.

And let’s not forget that the residents — proponents and opponents — all presented themselves well, showing respect for the proceedings.

How does the saying go? Democracy isn’t always pretty, but it works.

Mike Barnhardt is editor of the Davie County Enterprise-Record.