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.