Change in Westminster code sought for indoor shooting range

November 14, 1994|By Donna E. Boller | Donna E. Boller,Sun Staff Writer

A Westminster man wants to build Carroll County's first indoor shooting range, reportedly at the Air Business Center.

James Harris' plan comes four months after the county zoning appeals board rejected an indoor range proposed by Herbert Starlings, a Finksburg resident and gun hobbyist. Mr. Starlings wanted to open the range in the former Westminster Knit Co. factory at 535 Old Westminster Pike.

Mr. Harris took the first step on his plan last week with a request for a change in Westminster's city code to allow indoor shooting and archery ranges in areas zoned for restricted industrial use.

A range would require a special exception, which means a request to build one would automatically trigger a public hearing.

Changing the city law is likely to be a long, involved process.

Mr. Harris' attorney, Charles M. "Mike" Preston, produced several witnesses who told the city planning commission last week that the county needs an indoor shooting range.

Mr. Preston's draft of proposed zoning code amendments included a ban on alcohol sales within 3,000 feet of a range.

He also proposed restricting ranges to freestanding buildings on lots of at least 2 acres.

Sheriff John H. Brown told the commission, "Personally as a private citizen and as the sheriff of this county, I cannot stress enough the need for this range." He said people need a place where they can fire guns without danger from ricocheting bullets.

Hampstead resident C. D. Baker, a hunter-safety instructor, also argued that the county needs a public shooting range and that the proposed alcohol restriction is unnecessary.

"Guys who are going shooting aren't going to sit in a bar and drink beer and then go out and shoot," Mr. Baker said.

Mr. Preston and Mr. Harris refused to discuss possible sites for the shooting range, but other sources confirmed that Mr. Harris has been looking at property in the northern section of the Air Business Center.

Mr. Harris took no part in the hearing and declined afterward to say why he wants to open a shooting range or what experience he has managing one.

Real estate appraiser Gerald D. Bitzel told the planning commission that an indoor shooting range would not adversely affect neighborhood property values "if it is built with generally accepted safety standards and has good management."

The proposed alcohol ban poses a potential problem for one of the shooting range's prospective neighbors. Don Bullock, owner of Bullock's Airport Inn, said he had no objection to the range, but didn't want to cut himself off from a liquor license.

"We don't serve alcohol now, but down the road I might want to," Mr. Bullock said. His restaurant would be within 3,000 feet of the possible site, he said.

City planner Katrina Tucker asked about possible leakage of lead dust from the range after one of Mr. Preston's witnesses reported that workers in arms-manufacturing plants have elevated lead levels in their blood.

Engineer Judith A. Carroll, who designed an indoor shooting range in Timonium, said air-filtration systems in shooting ranges are designed to trap lead dust.

The planning commission will study the proposed city law changes and make a recommendation to the City Council, which has the final decision. If the council votes to open restricted industrial land to indoor shooting ranges, Mr. Harris could submit a specific plan to the city's zoning appeals board.

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