BG Gun range hearing - BK.jpg

The Frederick County Board of Zoning Appeals heard testimony Thursday at Winchester Hall on a proposed firing range and training facility near Sugarloaf Mountain. The hearing room was filled to capacity, and many viewed the proceedings from two other areas in the building by television.

Linda Byrd's chance to speak to county officials came during hour seven of a public hearing Thursday, and when it did, she decided to tell them about a recent trip to see her parents in Washington County.

The weather was beautiful, and at a nearby firing range, someone was out shooting. For five or six hours, she said.

It's a sound she's concerned could change life near Sugarloaf Mountain if a proposal to build a nearby firing range moves forward. To drive her point home as she testified before the Frederick County Board of Zoning Appeals, Byrd even started tapping her microphone with a pen.

Pop. Pop. Pop.

"This doesn't even come close to what the sound would be," Byrd, who lives on Comus Road, said of shooting at the proposed range.

Byrd and a large crowd of neighbors urged the appeals board to block the range proposal by denying a special exception for the Thurston Road project.

Residents packed the roughly 200-person hearing room and spilled into overflow areas on the second and third floors of Winchester Hall. Expert presentations, cross-examination and public comment wore on for hours, but the hearing room remained full as residents waited for the appeals board's decision.

But by 10:30 p.m., residents were still speaking on the proposal. If the board couldn't get through the speaker list Thursday night, members planned to continue with the public testimony Tuesday.

The range proposal has been met with a groundswell of community resistance, as residents have rushed to organize, schedule community meetings and print the anti-range signs that now populate Thurston Road.

The attorney who defended the range proposal submitted by Old Line Arsenal LLC acknowledged the intense community opposition to the project but asked the appeals board not to get swept up in the wave of public sentiment.

"This is not a popularity contest," attorney Peter Fitzpatrick said. "The applicant is entitled to use their property in a way that is legal."

Any effort to open a firing range in a resource conservation area like Thurston Road requires a special exception from the appeals board. To secure the exception, those involved in the project must show that the range will meet certain standards for safety and minimizing disruptions. 

Old Line's plans for the site feature two outdoor shooting ranges — one for long guns and one for handguns — an indoor shooting range and a three-story wooden shooting tower.

A representative of Old Line told board members that the shooting range is just one element of its larger plan to provide firearms and wilderness training in a natural setting. Andrew Valois added that the company will even offer yoga therapy and meditation activities, a statement that elicited laughs from an audience doubtful that the range site would be conducive to quiet contemplation.

Speakers on Thursday said the range would spoil the peacefulness of the Sugarloaf Mountain area and could undermine the viability of local businesses. 

"This tranquility, this natural setting, this quietness is my bread and butter," said Jill Reeves, who runs a yoga studio near the range site.

Experts on either side of the proposal gave conflicting reports about how much noise the range would actually emit.

Old Line's acoustic engineer, Scott Hansen, said tests completed earlier this month found that shots fired inside the site produced sound registering at 56 to 59 decibels at the border of the property. Hansen's review measured the report of one firearm at a time, and he acknowledged that the cumulative effect of multiple shooters might push the noise up toward a state-set threshold of 65 decibels. However, sound-dampening technologies planned for the range could soften noise levels by up to 10 or 15 decibels, Hansen said.

However, the expert for Sugarloaf Alliance, an organization of residents opposed to the range, said the noise would top 75 decibels within half a mile of the facility and 70 decibels within a mile.  

Hansen, who took his measurements when the trees were thick with leaves, said noise levels might actually be lower when the branches are bare. Clem Myer, an engineer working with the alliance, said the tests should have been performed in winter and with higher-caliber firearms that would produce a louder gunshot. Under questioning, Myer acknowledged that he is not an acoustics expert but said an independent analysis of the noise levels at the site is needed.

The gunfire could spook the horses on numerous nearby equestrian farms, interrupt wedding ceremonies at Strong Mansion and disturb the tranquility local residents now enjoy, speakers said. Residents also raised concerns about stray bullets and the environmental impact of building the range.

But Valois pointed out that the facility site, which would cover about 15 acres, would be tucked away inside a larger 262-acre property and said it will not disturb the surrounding community. With the safety measures planned for the range, Valois also testified that there was "virtually no possibility" that a bullet could escape into the surrounding area. 

"It's going to be quiet, unobtrusive and a very neat thing for the area. It's going to bring a lot of tourism to the area. It's going to be a destination place," Valois said.

He said it would also furnish county coffers with additional tax dollars.

Range opponents said county revenue would actually take a hit if the range were constructed because the facility would cut into local property values. Wayne Six, a local appraiser hired by the Sugarloaf Alliance, estimated that one particular property could lose 15 percent of its value if a range were built next door.

The range proposal was initially scheduled to come before the appeals board in late July, but the hearing was postponed.

Follow Bethany Rodgers on Twitter: @BethRodgersFNP.

(65) comments

patriot

Ha Ha--Yoga classes....that's a bit of a stretch.

backroomfrederick

Beyond ignorant to try to burden a community with this proposal. Fail.

FredNeckovr60

I reall hope amthe permitting gets approved. Perhaps it will inhibit all the noise coming from the Sugarloaf Winery, with bands blasting music on the weekends, and hundreds of cars entering and exiting the facility. I suppose this is acceptable to all you concerned citizens?
GET REAL PEOPLE!!!

rstull1949

At least it's only some weekends, not 9-5 M-S.

kjswartz

FredNeckOverSixty - you have eleven posts so far, so my assumption is you have a wealth of Frederick County history you can easily share with us all. I wish you would, even in this forum, take the time to share what is most important to preserve, and if Sugarloaf is worthy of preserving if other landmarks have long been forgotten.

You see, that is my concern - when zoning becomes automatically defeated at the say-so of new businessmen and against the desires of local residents, local businesses with a long history tied to THIS area, and finally to normal people just like you and I. We become second class citizens, unworthy in the eye of local politicians, inconvenient guardians of whatever is left over for our grandchildren and their grandchildren.

The pickings have gotten very slim lately.

How do you want to be remembered?

her1234

For the record I am not a gun owner. I am for the strict gun laws of MD. I frankly don't like guns and think that they make weak people feel strong. So no I wouldn't shoot my animal for not meeting my expectations. The remedy I was referring to is called training - which if going by the testimony many people need to do more of. So, perhaps you you should change your name to Extra Ignorant since you are assuming that I own a gun and support a gun range. I support citizens rights to voice their opinion in a relevant and intelligent way based on facts. That is not what happened at the hearing.

Extra Ignored

Thinking you can train all animals to ignore ambient noises is ignorant. Temperament varies in all animals; even humans. Your temperament seems to be easily agitated.

rstull1949

Your opinion.

her1234

The drama was too much. I understand that people are passionate but one man claimed that he would sell his house for next to nothing if this passes. I would like to put an offer on his house.
Afraid to let your kid play in your yard? Then I suppose you won't be driving your children anywhere anymore because they have a greater chance of being killed in a car accident. Horses are not that easily spooked. I've ridden...near gunshots...my well trained horse did not react. If your dog is anxious with noise then you have failed as a dog owner. There are methods to remedy that. Times change. Topography changes. Landscapes change. I'm sure that before some the residents houses were built there were other landowners who opposed the development. Agree to disagree, but the whining, mud slinging, and lies being told about the owners are disgraceful and must stop.

Extra Ignored

I guess if your horse or your dog didn't meet your expectation you could just take your gun and shoot it and the problem would be solved.

Extra Ignored

The decibel level of the sound at the property line would be different on a rainy day than on a sunny day with no wind.

The levels of outdoor NOISE, whether they are intrusive or the normal background environment, vary extensively at distances greater than about a hundred meters from the source. This variation is caused by changes in weather conditions and by topographical features such as ground cover, hills and other obstacles between the source and the receiver.

http://www.sfu.ca/sonic-studio/handbook/Sound_Propagation.html

Extra Ignored

The owner could be required to install a Shotspotter System so it would be able to prove gun shots heard more than a mile away didn't come from their facility.

Baltimore police will soon install a gunshot detection system in east and west Baltimore, under a $305,000 state grant that won city approval Wednesday.

http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2014-02-12/news/bs-md-gunshot-detector-20140212_1_gunshot-detection-system-shotspotter-system-police-cameras

rstull1949

How are they going to make any money if they put something like that in place? Their not, so it will never happen.

tictac102

I'm not happy with the threats to my family and myself. The meclers have posted my comments on social media and there gun toting friends are vowing to find me and "get this handled" or "don't mess with the force". Since I'm not friends for the obvious reason, a mutual friend is sharing their feed and appears I need to be worried for my safety and for the safety of my family. All while the meclers play victim and have there friends do the dirty work.

Arcticdc5

Keep on exaggerating...

tictac102

Not exaggerating at all, my friend printed all the comments from Mr. & Mrs. Mecler’s Facebook page and now the comments have been deleted as well as most comments about the whole situation. I'm glad she printed them before they deleted the disgusting comments. If anything, shows the character of immature people. They took the conversation to Facebook, so they could control the dialog instead of here and since I'm not friends and have no desire to be we can’t engage each other. Glad I know people that look out for others, I fear for her safety.

Extra Ignored

Maybe you need to contact the State Police.

Extra Ignored

I don't know if local law enforcement could be trusted.

Please contact the State Police.

Solarrays247

tictac102, if you have proof of threats being made to you and/or your family members, you might want to consider contacting the local law enforcement authorities. You can also contact the "FBI Cyber 3 Unit" at http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/investigate/cyber.

If you sincerely feel that you may be in danger, remember that it is always better to be safe than sorry later, and perhaps it is best that you don't answer me on this board for your own safety.

Here is some good advice that has appeared on Twitter, but it can also be applied today to any other sources of credible online bullying and threats.

"Take threats seriously

If you believe you are in physical danger, contact the local law enforcement authorities who have the tools to address the issue.

If you decide to work with law enforcement, make sure to do the following:

~ document the violent or abusive messages with print-outs or screenshots

~ be as specific as possible about why you are concerned

~ provide any context you have around who you believe might be involved, such as evidence of abusive behavior found on other websites

~ provide any information regarding previous threats you may have received."

tictac102, you do not have to put up with bullying, threats, and fearing for your safety for simply exercising your rights of free speech according to the First Amendment of our U.S. Constitution:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
— The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

Take care,

A concerned citizen

upyourgazoo

How ironic is this.............you could get a gun and protect yourself.

Extra Ignored

From the local police.

upyourgazoo

their

richardlyons

The only reason this applicant is seeking this particular site (1 mile from the county line) has nothing to do with popularity of fiearms in Fredrick County. It will primarily attract and be used by MC residents. Applicant knew they had zero chance of buiding said range in MC so they jumped the county line to where zoning exceptions/rezoning are a daily occurrence.

Extra Ignored

Makes sense. Montgomery County as over 1 million residents and Frederick County only has 250,000. Many people also traveled here from DC to go to Wegmans when it first opened until another store was opened in Germantown.

Arcticdc5

Waste of gas when there was one in Woodbridge...

Extra Ignored

Maybe it was really busy.

Extra Ignored

The company should fund a trip for opponents to visit a similar facility if they are really sincere. Here's something in New Jersey.

http://www.atlanticcountygamepreserve.org/index.html

Tigerzord

I watched the hearing, it reminded me of all the eloquent speakers at the nights of Monrovia Town Center Hearings - citizens expressing their concerns about safety and why they love Frederick County, why they moved here, why they stay here..... It will be interesting to see where this goes.... being an election year I can't predict - if it weren't I would know exactly what would happen. Citizens need to get out and vote this November, don't be fooled by Blaine Young's "nice side".

Extra Ignored

But Blaine Young has spoken.

This is not the right place for a gun range.

He said it would also furnish county coffers with additional tax dollars.

Blaine Young wants to know how many tax dollars we are talking about...

...and if you'll be hiring his trucks and taxis for advertising.

jerseygrl42

this is a travesty in the making and should NOT be allowed by the zoning board; both candidates for county exec have stated it does not belong here ...go find a more appropriate place to fire weapons and I am saying this as a gun owner and NRA member

mtwocents77

Special exception should not be granted because this proposed use fails the following:

"The nature and intensity of the operations involved in or conducted in connection with it and the size of the site in relation to it are such that the proposed use will be in harmony with the appropriate and orderly development of the neighborhood in which it is located."

Webster defines "harmony" as follows:

"a pleasing combination or arrangement of different things"

Applicant failed to adequately explain the pleasing combination of horses, yoga, hiking, and mass-firing weapons of all calibers. I get the first 3. Add in the 4th, not so pleasing.

rstull1949

These folks don't give a d@mn about the harmony of their business with the neighbors, they just want to make money. I didn't get the impression they were very prepared, they don't even have a site plan, only a idea of where they want to put the outdoor range. Couldn't answer the question about the wetlands or the noise . It sounded like they were making it up has they went along. Very unprofessional, which leaves me to believe they will operate this range the same way.

rstull1949

They don't care about harmony only the money. They really need to get their facts straight before Tuesday, like where are you putting that outdoor range for the assault rifles. What is the sound like from a 24' tower with an assault rifle? Where are the wetlands on this property? Lots of questions not answered. What kind of weapons do the police and military train with?

Extra Ignored

I shot an M16 at an outdoor National Guard shooting range and a rifle at an indoor Military Academy shooting range decades ago. You have to wear ear protection. Didn't do a thing for me.

I preferred a battery powered lawn mower because gas powered lawn mowers are so loud. Motorists would stop on the street and ask me what kind of lawn mower that was because they couldn't even hear it. It was plenty loud when you're walking behind it.

Fully Automatic Assault Rifle at 18,000fps - The Slow Mo Guys

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gD7pd03L43k

KoS5917

Where is civility? I totally understand those opposing a gun range in the Sugarloaf region. I'm not here to debate the law -- there are arguments on both sides of this coin. While I would be concerned about repetitive gunfire in my back yard and potential safety issues (and these are real fears), I was really kind of saddened by what I saw at yesterday's hearing. What I'm really concerned about is the fact that neighbors can't intelligently disagree without hurling insults, acting like children at a quasi-judicial proceeding, and being rude. This screams of a larger problem -- like those that exist in politics right now. Any message gets lost in the proverbial "lynch mob" mentality. What ever happened to making informed decisions based on facts? What ever happened to constructive criticism and debate? There is no need to insult people or cast aspersions on a family and/or its businesses because of the business choices they make. Those hooting and hollering and clapping should be ashamed of themselves. In this age of social media, manners have gone out the window.

Has anyone actually looked at the zoning ordinance and seen what they could build there without having to have special exception approval? Someone mentioned Linganore Winery yesterday -- and I happened to be stuck in traffic on 75 because of one of their festivals earlier in the summer. Did you know that a winery could be built on that property as a matter of right? Do you want to hear concerts and have drunk people on Thurston Road? What about a sawmill and the constant buzzing that would be associated with that kind of operation?

The point is, whatever happened to agreeing to disagree? Just because I don't like a business idea or feel it's not suited for an area, I'm hesitant to condemn the people behind it. This is a very slippery slope. One day I could find myself wanting to do something legally permitted on my own property that might be unpopular with my neighbors. What then?

I'll close with this -- a family member was a trial lawyer in another state. I used to sit and hear the stories of how he would go into court and have knock down, drag out battles. Vehemently disagreeing with his opposition. No holds barred in the courtroom..but at the end of the day, outside of the courtroom, he'd go for a beer with opposing counsel. That's true respect. In today's instant-gratificaton social-media fueled society, we've lost that.

rstull1949

I'm sorry but a yoga studio at that location is laughable, you have to agree with that.

KoS5917

I didn't say I disagreed with anything substantive that was spoken on behalf of concerned neighbors last night. Of course yoga and guns don't go together. My whole point was that there has to be a better way of discourse.

kjswartz

KoS: you have three postings this morning, so let me be the first to welcome you to Frederick County. We are proud of our legacies and natural treasures, and welcome you to visit and help us preserve the best we can find here at home.

Your insights are very welcomed and appreciated. We hope the diversity in our future discussions bring better choices for our lifestyle.

It is better to understand a fresh perspective than to never have a choice of beneficial changes and improvements to our way of life.

Please bring your "'A"' game - I promise I am bringing mine.

rstull1949

I wasn't there in the pm, but other then a laugh or 2 I didn't think people were rude in the early meeting. Guess it's a matter of opinion.

upyourgazoo

That type of behavior is typical of the native Maryland liberal.

DaveSM

Yoga?

Tigerzord

Don't forget the hiking trails....

upyourgazoo


"neighbors can't intelligently disagree without hurling insults, acting like children at a quasi-judicial proceeding, and being rude."

Extra Ignored

Any disagreement with a conservative is an insult.

How dare anyone disagree with a conservative.

rstull1949

upyourgazoo,upyourgazoo

rstull1949

Me too.

Tigerzord

I wish their could be a civil and respectful approach to FC government, but time and time again the citizens of FC who have come out to testify are ignored, ridiculed and tossed aside..... we are fed up and our frustration shows. If we had local government that was working in the best interest of the county on all issues, then maybe things could be civil. That is why Jan Gardner will be our next CE.

FrederickNative86

I question the integrity of business owners who care so little about how their endeavor will effect the property's neighbors. I see no way that this is for the good of the community, especially with other shooting options nearby, including an indoor range that will be opening in 21704 soon. It is purely self-serving and, considering this issue is rather high profile, I'm sure their eventual success, or lack thereof, would reflect their ambivalence.

rstull1949

FredNeckovr60, Sugarloaf park is open to everyone, so anyone that enjoys the peace and quiet of the park can speak to save it. What part of that don't you understand?

FredNeckovr60

Why are Montgomery County RESIDENTS allowed to speak at Frederick County civic meetings????

whats going on

Because they are smart!!![beam]

Arcticdc5

To have elected Ron Young - yeah, try again...

kjswartz

I would ask The Sugarloaf Alliance to take camera phone pictures from The Mountain's vantage point where the indoor and outdoor ranges are planned.

Ask a simple question: if you can see the structures, can we also hear the sound?

Ask a simpler question: if you can see the rifle, is it more possible to hear the sound and receive an errant bullet?

The business owners must be paying for really bad information, or they are misunderstanding the risks to their business model. But, if we must persevere through a public tantrum that says their business is more important than Sugarloaf Mountain's zoning, that's their choice to make.

All they need to do is move theIr shooting ranges just three miles thataway.

japorciento

And what kind of weaponry will be allowed on "campus"? Fully automatic machine guns, .30 caliber and .50 caliber? Sub-machine guns? .50 caliber sniper rifles? M-16's? (The M-16, all by itself, issues an extremely loud, sharp report--for those of you who have never heard one. And it can be heard for miles--even "when the branches are bare.")

upyourgazoo

If they allow the .50 BMG to be fired, they would be the first range in Frederick County to allow that gun, I think. It's been a few years but I shot one a couple times while we were elk hunting in Wyoming. As I remember it was a hoot.

japorciento

Old Line (ahem!) Academy refuses to release the names of its "students". Will they include the CIA, Blackwater/Xe Services, Seal Team Six... 9 year old kids with Uzis?

kjswartz

Burger and Bullets at the foot of Surgarloaf Mountain?

upyourgazoo

That's better than wine, weed, and driving home.

scrabblefan

The FNP should talk to those who live near another Valois family business just outside of Frederick off 180 to find out what kind of neighbors they are. I drive past on my way to work and it doesn't look like are very good ones.

rstull1949

Jediknight, your not in WV anymore, this is MD and we have kept our state livable because of our zoning. I'm sure you could put your gun range anywhere in WV, go home.

tictac102

I also notched the name, old line academy. No experience in running a gun range and let's be honest that what this is and they think they are smarter then everyone by using the word "academy" to divert from what this really is, a gun range plan and simple. Academy, that's just as amusing as yoga classes on a gun range

tictac102

Yoga at a gun range? I hope that is a joke, I found it interest that ms Valois bragged on social for days about preparing for her testimony on social media and in aggressive tone, and could not even speak in complete sentences. After I left I decided to find out more abut ms Valois, who recently married Jason Mecler, a partner in this gun range. They also own FACKA an adult kickball league, they also now The JoAnn Garrett Classic, a "non-profit" organization and MDTix, (I will no longer be going to linganore wine tasting events or any other events that puts money in these folks pocket) an online ticketing company. I also spoke to a few people that told me ms Valois and her husband got married on a kickball field wearing Star Wars costumes (to each their own) I would have like to have stayed but after 3 hours it was apparent that If the county passes this someone is in someone else's pocket. I found it ridiculous that this went so late, knowing people had to get to there families and I think it was a strategic move on the counties part to get people to leave so the board can push this through.

KoS5917

Did I miss something? No woman spoke on behalf of the applicant at yesterday's hearing. As for zoning hearings...they ALWAYS go late.

tictac102

i didn't say she spoke, I referred to her online social media activity. She's quite a different person on Facebook, so I hear since we are not friends. I need to correct myself, I don't think her husband is a partner in this business. These are just my options and I am entitled to them just as everyone else.

hawbottom1

“It’s going to be quiet, unobtrusive and a very neat thing for the area. It’s going to bring a lot of tourism to the area. It’s going to be a destination place,” Valois said.

Whether planning a day trip or a longer vacation, the availability of shooting range facilities definitely are on the top of my list in decision making.

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