Tuesday, June 03, 2014

TOP STORY >> City thinks it’s exempt over noise

Leader staff writer

Jacksonville’s shooting sports range is exempt from the noise ordinance, according to city council minutes obtained through a Freedom of Information Act.

Furthermore, in all council and planning commission minutes from mid-2012, when the range was first talked about, public concern about noise was nonexistent. The city found only three references in nearly two years of minutes referencing noise discussions of any kind — and none from residents.

Since the $3.2 million facility, officially called the Arkansas Game and Fish Foundation Shooting Sports Complex, opened noise — loud, constant popping of gunfire — has caused a lot of angst among some Foxwood residents.

Some are considering lawsuits to close the facility down, but that might be hard to do because of the noise exemption that was passed Feb. 21, 2013, more than a year before the facility opened.

The city has hired an engineer who specializes in noise issues and has designed noise abatement solutions for other shooting ranges. He is taking sound samples to determine the best solution.

In council minutes from that meeting, City Attorney Robert Bamburg said the new ordinance (Ordinance 1477) was patterned after several other cities that had similar circumstances regarding a shooting zone.

Bamburg said the “shooting range and mechanical devices that create sounds and alarms would be exempt.” One legal expert told The Leader the city can’t exempt itself from making too much noise.

Also at that meeting, Bamburg said “events that are held between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. on public property would be exempt.” He gave the high school cannon as an example. Even though that boom reverberates throughout the neighborhood surrounding the school when a touchdown is scored, it is not considered to be “loud and raucous.”

Noise has to be loud and raucous to be in violation of the noise ordinance and that usually applies to noise after 10 p.m., Bamburg said.

At that meeting, Aldermen Mike Taylor questioned where measurements are taken to determine the loudness of the noise. Bamburg said they are taken 50 feet from the building or the site of the noise.

An amendment was put forth by Taylor for measurements to be taken 50 feet from the property boundary. The council approved the amendment.

At the same February 2013 meeting, the council approved zoning for the range and a short-term loan agreement to cover construction costs.

Eight months later, at a city planning commission meeting, the commissioner approved the site plan for the shooting complex. At that meeting the main concern was not noise disturbing residents but the sun getting in shooters’ eyes.

Tommy Bond, the consulting engineer on the project, said the “direction of the range was tilted slightly to the northeast and there was concern that the shooters would have to face the morning sun, so the direction was shifted due north.”

The commission then discussed designating the complex and the surrounding land as a city park since the facility would be city-owned and operated.

Bamburg told planning commissioners that there was “a conditional-use provision for park facilities that would apply to the facility, which would be part of the process along with annexation issues.”

About 60 acres on the east side of the complex are in Lonoke County.

Bond told the commission that about 2,000 feet was dedicated to the fallout or safety zone for the range and that wetlands had been marked off to ensure they weren’t damaged.

But there was no conversation about noise.

The commission approved the plans “contingent upon the city ensuring that the facility meets all planning and building codes.”

Gov. Mike Beebe, who spoke at the facility’s ribbon cutting in May, said the 160-acre complex at 2800 Graham Road was “one of the finest — if not the finest — shooting ranges in the region.”

“Jacksonville has always had a vision to make the community bigger and better,” Beebe said. “Somebody had to have a vision. This land is absolutely beautiful.” He said the complex will attract families and will get young people involved in shooting sports “for generations to come and will enrich countless lives.”

But not everyone agrees with the governor.

Some Jacksonville residents have complained strongly about the noise at the firing range.

And some residents in the nearby Foxwood Estates subdivision say they can hear shooting from the complex.

One of those is former Police Chief Gary Sipes, who resigned at the end of May to run for mayor, partly because he felt the city was not working sufficiently toward a solution of the shooting range noise.

Mayor Gary Fletcher has promised the city would do something to decrease the noise, but he wants to look at the suggestions from the sound engineer before asking the city to commit money. Sipes, who lives in Foxwood Estates with his wife, DeJuanna, said he’s not happy with the noise at the new firing range. He said the shooting range backs in to his yard. He said he would recommend limiting shooting hours from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.