Friday, May 23, 2014

TOP STORY>>Sherwood residents shoot down firing range

Leader staff writer

Sherwood officials have buried their plan to build an outdoor shooting range for the police department after residents near the proposed site circulated a petition opposing the project.

Those residents plan to speak at the Sherwood City Council meeting on Tuesday.

Mayor Virginia Hillman said a long-term goal for the site at 834 Trammel Road is to build an indoor training facility.

Police Chief Jim Bedwell said that would save at least half of the $6,500 spent per year on officers traveling to and from ranges outside Sherwood.

But, Hillman said, “I just don’t think (the outdoor range is) going to be a good move right now.”

She added, “We’re trying to get something that would give (police) the opportunity to train in our hometown.”

The uproar over the outdoor range began when city equipment was used this week to move donated dirt to the 5.13-acre lot that is zoned for single-family homes. The dirt came from the construction site for the new Mapco Express gas station being built at the intersection of Kiehl Avenue and Brockington Road.

Bedwell said the city bought the Trammel Road property for $18,500 using seized drug money. The entrance is a one-lane gravel road.

Virginia Jones is purchasing the house at 828 Trammel Road. The range would have been behind that property.

She called The Leader on Wednesday to say the city’s plan to build an outdoor range was “just not right.” Jones opposes it for the same reason some Jacksonville residents are complaining about the shooting sports complex there — noise.

On Thursday morning, she insisted that an indoor range wasn’t mentioned to her before then. “So I think that the idea of an indoor range somewhere in the future, which is what they’re saying because they don’t have the money now, was supposed to jolly us along,” Jones said.

She asked if an engineering study had been done and was told that one wasn’t needed until the building is constructed there, Jones continued.

About an indoor facility, she said, “I hope they don’t do it. I hope they don’t. If they do, they’re going to have to deal with this community again. I mean I might be OK with that if they really contained it…I’d rather it not happen.”

The outdoor range would have had six lanes and 12-foot berms on three sides with trees planted outside the berms.

The property it would have been on is just west of the Roundtop Filling Station, which is being restored and will be used as a police substation.

Bedwell said, “I think the impact would have been a lot less than (the opposition) thought.”

Jones said, “So many times that man has told me ‘you won’t even know we’re out there.’ Liar! Of course I’m going to know they’re out there.” She was frustrated that the chief and mayor were “blowing smoke” like that.

Jones added that officials agreed to work around her disabled daughter’s schedule so officers would only practice shooting once a month and not while her daughter was home.

She also complained about the city not hosting a comment period and seemingly bypassing the permitting process.

Bedwell at first believed the land was in the county, but later learned it is inside city limits. The chief explained that the permitting process would have been different if the lot wasn’t in Sherwood.

Since it is in the city, the Sherwood Planning Commission would have received a rezoning request, Bedwell said. Public hearings are part of that, he explained.

Bedwell added that he talked to several neighbors about putting in an outdoor range and they weren’t opposed to it.

His goals were to save the city money and keep officers in Sherwood rather than 20 to 30 minutes away so they could respond to an emergency in the city more quickly.

Bedwell said that, over the last four years, officers have spent 866 hours driving to and from the Cabot, Camp Robinson and Jacksonville ranges.

The ranges are free to use, but Jacksonville requires that one of their officers be with shooters from other agencies, Bedwell noted.

Bedwell said traveling to and from ranges put 29,400 miles on patrol cars, an average of 7,350 miles per year.

Having a range in the city would cut the associated costs in half, Bedwell noted.

The department uses the Bill Harmon Recreation Center or Sherwood Forest to hold training classes when rooms are available at those facilities.

Jones said she was told the city owned some property near Sherwood Forest and suggested that land be used for the outdoor range.

He also said the department has outgrown its current building at the municipal complex on Kiehl Avenue and there is no room on that property to build anything.

Bedwell added that five or six people are sharing an office designed for two occupants.

The chief said he hopes appropriated funds from legislators might help construct the indoor facility. “I think it looks better and is something we really need,” Bedwell noted.

Jones said she is still waiting to see how Tuesday’s meeting will go before she finalizes purchasing the house on Trammel.She doesn’t trust the mayor’s word that a range won’t be built.

Jones explained that she has spoke to several people, including mayoral candidate Doris Anderson, about the outdoor range and other issues. Anderson and others have told her Hillman is involved in a lot of “shenanigans” like building the outdoor range, Jones said.

Jones also contacted Alderman Mary Jo Heye. She and the mayor have butted heads on several issues, and some residents have told The Leader they expected her to run for mayor.

The area where the range would have been is in the ward she represents. Heye is up for re-election in November and is facing off against former Alderman Butch Davis for the seat.

Heye said this was the first she’d heard of police officers needing a range.

She was also concerned about residents not being informed of the range plans via signs and permitting.

Heye is not opposed to building a range if police need it. “I do have an issue with the city going out without due diligence and buying a property in a residential area that could affect these people’s property values,” she said.

“The whole thing was very odd,” she said. Heye asked, if the site had been in the county, “Does that make it OK?” Her answer was no.