SNOW HILL – A firearm shooting range that could be coming to Berlin has citizens concerned over neighborhood impacts and the need to change town law to allow the use.
Local businessman Duane Maddy is asking for changes to the zoning code to allow indoor shooting ranges as a conditional use, which would allow him to build a shooting range on industrial property near the Kool Ice plant on Washington Street.
“We’ve gone to great lengths to try to protect the town and the neighborhoods in town,” said project attorney Brian Shockley to the Berlin Planning Commission last week. “I’ll concede it comes with some initial baggage.”
According to Shockley, there are no indoor shooting ranges on lower Delmarva. The closest is in Dover, 60 miles away.
Maddy described the firearm and bow range as a community asset, including classrooms for community use by groups such as Boy Scouts as well as firearms-related uses, such as hunter safety classes.
The shooting range would be membership only, Maddy said, like a health club. Members would be certified and would need to prove they had been properly trained to handle a firearm and be required to take a safety course. The range would not conduct background checks, Maddy said.
The greatest obstacle facing the shooting range is a Berlin law prohibiting the discharge of firearms in town limits.
Shockley suggested that the passage of the text amendment could be conditioned on amending the current town code to authorize discharging of firearms in a shooting facility.
“It breaks one of our laws right here in town,” said concerned citizen Thom Gulyas. “You’re trying to bring in an establishment that we’ve got to rewrite the code for.”
Any changes in town code must benefit the majority, not just a single business, Gulyas said.
The Planning Commission focused on setbacks and noise in their discussion last week.
Conditional uses in the M-1 industrial district, which have to get approval from the Berlin Board of Zoning Appeals, must be set back 300 feet from property lines according to the Berlin zoning code, said Planning Superintendent Chuck Ward.
The text amendment proposed by Shockley does not include a 300-foot setback. Nor does it include a vegetated buffer where industrial land meets residential.
Shockley said he did not ask for the 300-foot setback in the proposed text amendment because of the nature of the business, which is quiet, compared to the other conditional industrial uses allowed in the district.
“Those uses can be obnoxious. They can create noise, dust, vibration,” said Shockley.
The Planning Commission does not have the power to require a 300-foot setback for the use.
“You’re purely an advisory body at this point to the town council,” Ward said.
“The 300-foot clause has to stay,” said commission member Joe Hill.
The 300-foot buffer makes most of the industrial lots in Berlin unusable, said Shockley.
Noise from the shooting range cannot be allowed to impact the neighbors, the commission agreed.
“Minimal isn’t strong enough. We can’t have any shot noise coming out of that building at all,” said commission member Pete Cosby, who lives nearby.
The controversial ice plant has historically stirred up community complaints over compressor and truck noise.
“One of the main concerns would certainly be noise. Any such facility can be built so it is soundproof,” said Shockley.
Ward was tasked with adding language to the text amendment requiring that no noise emanate from the building.
The range would be designed to National Rifle Association (NRA) noise and safety standards and built of four-inch thick masonry or concrete.
Residences back up to the area, Cosby said, and could be impacted by traffic noise. Industrial uses create low levels of traffic, according to staff, unlike a private club, which would generate traffic like a retail use.
Gulyas predicted that the range would add retail elements as time went on. Industrial uses also should not be directly against residential areas, he said.
A lot of people in the area would appreciate a local firing range, but not in Berlin, he felt.
“We’d love to have it,” Gulyas said. “That’s not the best place.”
The Planning Commission voted 4-1, with Hill in opposition, to recommend the text amendment, with stricter noise requirements but without a 300-foot setback, to the Berlin Mayor and Council. Hill voted against the recommendation. “The 300-foot buffer is there for a reason,” said Hill after the vote.
The text amendment will now be sent to the council for a decision.