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Lee supervisors table action on firing range

WALTER LITTRELL • May 16, 2007 at 12:00 PM

JONESVILLE - The Lee County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to table action on a special-use permit request that would allow construction of a rifle and pistol shooting range in the Van, or Horse Hollow, community southwest of Jonesville.

Danny Hensley had requested the permit for property he owns on the north side of Route 612 just west of Route 615.

During a required public hearing, County Administrator Dane Poe told the board and the audience that the Planning Commission conducted a hearing on the matter last month and voted 2-1 to recommend approval, although several speakers at that hearing voiced their opposition. Poe added that he has received other letters and e-mails opposing the range since the April hearing.

Due to a large turnout of speakers, both for and against the proposal, supervisors required speakers to register, and each was limited to three minutes.

Hensley was first to speak, and before doing so he presented the board with petitions containing the signatures of 106 individuals in support of his planned facility. He told the board those signatures were in addition to 463 others he'd previously submitted. Hensley then told supervisors he is an avid shooter and plans to construct the facility for his own use, but he wishes to open it to the public in an effort to recoup some of his costs.

He was followed by 21 other speakers, with about half in support and half opposed.

Those who opposed the range cited concerns ranging from danger of stray bullets, environmental hazards and noise, to increased traffic, litter and the potential for drug and alcohol abuse by users who would wreak havoc on their neighborhoods.

Some speakers pointed out that Hensley began the project without obtaining the proper permits first and pointed to that as evidence of his disdain for following the law. One even cited Hensley's being issued a traffic ticket as proof of his disdain for law.

One speaker simply was concerned that Hensley did not contact his neighbors about his plans before proceeding.

Many speakers addressed a nearby Bible Camp and the impact stray bullets and noise would have on that facility, which is a mile away. Others were concerned that the development would suppress nearby property values, and one neighbor said the range would destroy his ability to develop 20 nearby building sites. Several plainly stated they just did not want such a facility in their neighborhood.

Supporters said many of the opponents' concerns are unfounded, pointing out that there are hills and ridges that will stop both stray bullets and noise. Some said they were aware of a meeting between Hensley and camp officials during which Hensley fired several rounds at the site of the range while camp officials listened for the sound from their property. The shots were barely audible at the camp, they said.

Others said the range would provide wholesome family activity, and Hensley would not only enforce safety rules, but he would also not allow drug and alcohol use at his facility. Several vouched for his character.

After all speakers had their opportunity at the lectern, the board asked for a show of hands of those who support the facility and then for those who oppose it. About half of those present were for it, and the other half opposed it.

Supervisor John Bledsoe, in whose district the proposed range would lie, then asked if the issue could be tabled for one month so that he and other interested supervisors may personally visit neighbors of the proposed range to get their thoughts.

"I understand both concerns," he said, "and I know that Mr. Hensley won't allow drugs and alcohol there, but the neighbors don't want it. We can't make both sides happy, but I would like to table action and go and talk to the neighbors so they know we respect both sides."

Bledsoe also pointed out that Hensley has invited anyone interested to visit the site and see for themselves what his plans are.

Supervisor D.J. Barker then questioned a letter the board had received from the Bible Camp. A member of the camp's board of directors said the group had met recently to discuss the situation and admitted that some members of the board were unopposed while others were opposed to the operation. She said a vote was taken to send a letter that was ambiguous as to the board's stance "and the majority ruled."

Barker requested that the camp board send another letter spelling out whether it was for or against the range, or at least a letter stating how members voted, because "we need to know exactly how the camp feels."

A motion to table a vote on the issue passed on a 4-1 count with Supervisor Patty Yates voting against it.

In other matters, the board approved a special-use permit request by Allen McKnight to allow recreational vehicles in a mobile home park.

The board also approved a resolution for interim financing for courthouse renovations.

A budget workshop was scheduled for 4:30 p.m. on May 24.

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