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Outside shooting range approved

The Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors voted 4 to 3 with one abstention Tuesday, March 9, to approve a special use permit for a shooting range to be used by Hampden-Sydney College.

According to a county memo, the shooting range at 7128 Farmville Road is zoned A1, Agricultural Conservation zoning district. Shooting ranges are allowed in the district only after approval of a special use permit.

The memo added that when the Prince Edward County Planning Commission held a public hearing Dec. 15, 2020, there were several people who spoke in opposition. Following that hearing, the commission tabled the application in order to allow the applicant time to coordinate with the neighbors and also arrange a test shoot at the property.

“The planning commission reviewed the response from Hampden-Sydney College and all of this information at their Jan. 19th meeting, and after much discussion, they recommended approval with conditions,” Director and Planning and Community Development Robert Love said.

The memo said based on the findings from the test shoot, county staff believes the buffer area is adequate, adding that the use is generally compatible with the zoning district and will have minimal impact on surrounding properties such as noise and traffic.

Supervisors Lou Gilliam, Jim Wilck, Patti Cooper-Jones and Chairman David Emert voted to authorize the special use permit with Supervisors Beverly Booth, Bobby Jones and Jerry Townsend voting against the proposal. Hampden District representative Dr. Odessa Pride abstained from voting on the issue.

During Tuesday’s public hearing, adjoining property owners questioned the validity of the county’s test shoot because it did not feature continuous shooting they say would happen in a practice session.

“That gun range is going to generate sound that’s quite honestly perceived as noise,” Robert Loveless said. “They say it’s minimal, but the actual gun range, they’re talking about 150 shots per session. That’s not the same as a half a dozen shots in a test. So their test doesn’t simulate the reality of the proposed operation.”

Prince Edward County Administrator Doug Stanley said firing 10 shots in a row is not going to amplify and make the sound louder than a single shot.

Charles Horton, the coach of H-SC’s sporting clays team, explained some of the shooting range’s planned technical details.

“We’re basically talking about putting a five-stand course out there,” he said. “We’re talking about basically one shooting station happening at a time. We’re talking about two hours a day for no more than two days a week. So if you do the math on that, it ends up being between 1 and 1 1/2% of the time, so almost 99% of the time no shooting activity will be occurring.”

Love stated there will not be multiple shots fired at a single time.

Townsend lives near to where the shooting range was originally planned, and expressed concerns.

“The meter may say one thing, but that gun, you’re going to hear it,” he said. While acknowledging there is nothing illegal about the range, he added, “I do feel like property owners deserve the right to enjoy his or her property in peace.”

Jones said he was persuaded to vote against the request on the Planning Commission because of the neighbors opposing it.

He said he does not know how much land Hampden-Sydney owns, but wondered why the range could not be placed elsewhere.

“If they want a shooting range, put it next to the college and annoy the people there, not neighbors — that’s just what I’ve heard,” he said.

Dolly Worthy, who sold the land proposed for the shooting range to the college, said she would like to keep the land dedicated to agriculture.

“I’ve been on campus many a day over there, went to church over there at Hampden-Sydney, and I’m just totally devastated that they would do this to me, and had I known, hindsight, I would have never given in to them,” she said. “I would have sold it to the tobacco company.”

Chairman David Emert said there is nothing illegal with placing a shooting range on the proposed site.

“I’m a property rights person as probably most of you all know,” he said. “If you know anything about me, I believe if you own a piece of property, that if it’s legal, you should be able to do it.”