Planning commission recommends no rezone

Friday, November 12, 2010

GREENCASTLE -- A landowner's bid to open a gun club in western Putnam County may not be dead, but it does not have the backing of the Putnam County Plan Commission.

The commission voted 6-1 Tuesday against recommending the rezoning of the land the gun club would have been built on, which is located northwest of the intersection of West Walnut Street (C.R. 75S) and C.R. 850W in Madison Township.

The Putnam County Commissioners will make the ultimate decision on the matter, but the commission's negative recommendation will be taken into account. Commissioner Gene Beck, who is also a member of the plan commission, voting against the rezoning.

At the heart of the debate was whether the 130-acre plot of land should be rezoned from agricultural 1 (A-1) to agricultural 2 (A-2).

Zoned as A-1, the land is specifically to be used for agricultural pursuits such as raising crops or livestock. Rezoning to A-2 would allow for more uses, among them, use as a gun club.

Commission President Brian Gilmartin expressed reservations as to whether petitioner Deb Cheek's plan would even qualify it as a gun "club."

"In my mind, it's not a gun club, it's a rifle range operated for profit," Gilmartin said. "I don't see that as a club. I see it as a range operated for profit."

Cheek's attorney Andrew Price said the club would be operated as a private entity in which only those who paid membership and were already National Rifle Association members would have access. The exceptions would be NRA-sanctioned competitions, community days and events for youth groups such as 4-H or Boy Scouts.

"My thinking is, a gun club is a private group," Price said. "I don't know how I would define it in terms of for-profit or non-profit."

The chief objections of neighbors, expressed at the plan commission's last meeting in August, related to how the proposed club would affect their quality of life. Cheek's lawyers addressed questions of safety from stray bullets, the sound emitted by the guns and the effects of spent ammunition of ground water.

Price explained the use of backstops, berms, bullet catchers and overhangs to prevent bullets from entering any areas for which they are not intended.

He also explained how keeping bullets to specific areas and the control and periodic testing of runoff would keep lead from entering the ground water.

"We can control whether there is contaminated storm water leaving the site because we are going to test it periodically," Price said.

Attorney Brent Weil addressed the sound issue, citing a recent sound study in the area. The testing, which was conducted when three different guns -- a carbine, a pistol and a shotgun -- were fired revealed the sound levels in the adjacent area did not exceed 63 decibels.

Normal conversation level is 64 decibels.

Delbert Brewer, attorney for David and Lisa Sims, who own land adjacent to the site, questioned the petitioners' findings.

However, his main focus was on the zoning issues, specifically spot zoning, which has been defined in previous court cases as the "singling out of one piece of property for a different treatment from that accorded to similar surrounding land which is indistinguishable from it in character, all for the economic benefit of the owner to the lot or area so singled out."

According to Brewer, the courts have further said spot zoning is not illegal, but it "must bear a rational relation to the public health, safety, morals, convenience or general welfare."

Brewer said he did not believe the proposed change met these criteria.

"We are not in some situation where we're desperate to have a gun range here in our county," Brewer said. "I don't believe this has anything to do with welfare; it's really about marksmanship."

He also said the site did not, in his view, meet the normal criteria for an area zoned as A-2.

"I think the best way to describe an A-2 district is it's a buffer zone from agricultural to residential," Brewer said.

In the commission's final discussion of the issue before voting, Gilmartin raised some of the same criteria as those presented by Brewer about spot zoning.

He also presented the board with four criteria they would need to vote in favor of the rezoning:

* It must not conflict with the county's comprehensive plan.

* It must fulfill a public need.

* It would not create a traffic flow problem.

* It does not create a potential nuisance for adjacent landowners.

Based on these, and the objections of the neighbors, the commission voted for a negative recommendation, with Gilmartin, Beck, Nancy Wells, David Penturf, Larry Jones and Kevin Scobee all against the recommendation.

Only Roger Deck dissented from the majority.

Those who objected to the plan erupted into applause and cheers upon completion of the voting, but Gilmartin quickly cut them off. He said this was simply the democratic process at work.

"It's not cause for celebration, one way or the other," Gilmartin said.

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