Despite a recommendation for approval by city staff, Clermont council members unanimously rejected a permit for an underground gun range off U.S. Highway 27 north of DeSoto Street, the same project they had originally approved in October 2010.
The approval in 2010 came after more than a year of working with then-owner David Heck to satisfy the concerns of citizens about the range’s proximity to a neighborhood, park, school and ice cream stand. The underground range would have also included an above-ground gun shop that did not require a conditional use permit and a 10-foot retaining wall that would stand at least six-feet above ground surrounding the 7,000-square-foot facility.
In Jan 2012, Heck, still not having started on the construction of the range, came before the council again. His conditional use permit was amended with a few changes, including the types of weapons that could be used, and was approved for the second time. Heck was then given two years to start construction but before he could do so, he died.
Before council this time were John Hill, the owner of Black Label Shooting Sports, who worked alongside Heck getting the project approved the first and second time, and his partner, Aaron Collins. They asked for the conditional use permit to be approved once more. They would have already started on the construction, but because the property’s sale to them was delayed and in probate since Heck’s death, the two-year time frame to start the build-out expired.
This time around, staff recommended its approval, but council members denied it.
“We were very disappointed, well actually completely shocked, that this wasn’t voted in again. We’ve put in a lot of time, money, effort and emotion into making sure we’ve done everything we’ve been asked to do in the right and most efficient way possible for the last nine months and for it to be denied … I’m just clueless,” said Hill.
At the meeting Tuesday night, a handful of residents of a neighborhood located behind the commercial property and others in the community opposed the project because of fear that the gun range and shop would not only be noisy but would endanger anyone who lives near it.
The same protests were heard by council when Heck was seeking their blessing before. Jim Purvis, a local Clermont resident who does not live near the gun range, pleaded with council members to reject it.
“I’m in total support of the gun range. It’s a good business, it’s something that’s needed in the community and it would be well utilized. I also think it’s the most stupid location for this,” Purvis said. “Unfortunately, David Heck died, but mercifully, that gave us another bite at the apple, and hopefully, this time you’ll bite it the right way.”
Tim Murry, a lifelong resident of Clermont who said he lives about 1,200 feet from the location of the proposed range also plead with council to vote against the project.
“There’s a playground less than 50 feet from the location. There are two churches, there’s Clermont Elementary School and Clermont Head Start about 300-500 feet from the facility. There are homes and residents that have been there for years. We are here discussing this for the third time but we really don’t need to be here again,” Murry said.
David Gustason, a customer of Hill’s who was at the meeting Tuesday, said he has visited dozens of ranges throughout the nation and never heard of any freak accidents or noise, even when standing in the parking lots.
“I’ve never heard of anything like that. I challenge you to find one,” Gustason said, responding to fears that bullets would fly out of the building. “Please know about it. Research the real facts about the noise, the ventilation, everything.”
Still, when the time came for a vote, the council voted 5-0 against the project.
“Many neighbors were against this facility’s application being approved. There are children, schools and churches close by and none of the residents supported the gun range. There were citizens in support of the range, but they did not live in this area,” Councilman Ray Goodgame said in an email to constituents after the meeting.