Shooting Range Still On Target

Despite objections from 50-plus nearby residents, plans for a shooting range in Lonedell are still on target.

The Franklin County Board of Zoning Adjustment (BZA) conducted a public hearing Tuesday night after Youth Benefit Corp. appealed the planning board’s decision back in April to grant Robert J. Dix, of St. Louis, a conditional use permit to build a sportsman’s club on 210 acres at 4273 Highway 47 just north of Soaring Hawk Trail.

The board upheld the planning board’s earlier decision to grant the CUP, stating that the planning board had adhered to the guidelines of the unified land use codes, the document it uses to base its decisions.

“I know that the ruling last time was 9-0,” said BZA member Fred Thatcher, “which meant that nine members were going by what was in that book. This board has to do the same thing.”

The board ruled 5-0 to uphold the planning board’s decision.

The Club

The sportsman’s club, will include outdoor ranges for archery, handguns and trap shooting, paintball fields and hiking trails, as well as a 3-D archery course through the woods. The 7-acre lake on the property will be used for boating and fishing, and Dix plans to build a guest lodge to use for special and corporate events.

Dix said he already has more than $850,000 invested in the property.

The Appeal

Youth Benefit Corp. is a nonprofit organization that owns 60 acres of property on Soaring Hawk Trail, 20 of which are in Franklin County. The organization operates Camp McClosson, which is host to Boy Scout events throughout the year, including camping, archery, shooting and other Scouting activities.

The organization filed an official appeal with the BZA, stating it believes the granting of Dix’s CUP was “erroneous” because the use will endanger the public health and safety and will injure the value of nearby properties.

It also stated in its appeal that the conditional use will not be “harmonious” with the area in which it is located because it is not compatible with other uses in the immediately surrounding area, it will impede the normal and orderly development and improvement of surrounding property for uses permitted in the district and it will generate noise pollution which will adversely impact the surrounding area.

Representatives from Youth Benefit Corp. who attended the hearing represented by legal counsel and an independent sound expert, along with more than 50 nearby residents testified one by one for more than two hours before the board.

Residents who testified affirmed the complaints cited in the appeal, but the biggest complaint seemed to be the disruption of their lives the noise from the two firing ranges and proposed trap shooting range would bring.

“We have Scouting activities 35 weekends a year,” said Tony Dill, head of the Youth Benefit Corp. “They enjoy the tranquility of the area. Dix wants to change that.”

The CUP granted to Dix came with 15 listed conditions, one of which was limiting membership to 250 people and/or families.

Dix’s side, which included attorney Matthew Chase, another sound expert and an employee hired to manage the sportsman’s club, also provided lengthy testimony.

The defendant and his witnesses testified the club would be a family-oriented organization and that shooting was just one part of what the club would offer its members. They said the noise from gunfire would largely be buffered by berms, foliage and enclosures.

Chase said the noise levels would be no louder than people having a backyard barbecue and there is much in life that isn’t “noise free.”

Dix also had brought two fellow gun enthusiasts who frequent firing ranges to testify. Both said the shooting ranges they frequent, one of which is the largest in the St. Louis region, rarely have more than 40 people there on any given weekend, with much fewer numbers during the week.

“I belong to St. Louis Bench Rest,” competitive shooter Frank Mancuso said. “There are 1,100 members and I can go there any day of the week and there might be one other person.”

Chase repeatedly reiterated in his testimony that although there were 50 or so residents in the audience, only one of them filed an appeal.

“They failed to appeal,” he said on several occasions. “There opinion isn’t worthy of consideration because they did not appeal.”

Resident Gwen Stein, who lives across the road from the sportsman’s club, said the appeal cost $600 and that she and other neighbors may not have formerly filed, but they did contribute monetarily to the Youth Benefit Corp.’s appeal.

“It’s not like we don’t talk to each other,” she said. “We were all part of this.”

Youth Benefit Corp.’s attorney, John King, said he wasn’t sure if litigation would be the next step to halt the shooting range, but Stein’s brother, Jeff Stein, said the fight wasn’t over.

“The next step is civil (court),” he said. “And I have the money to do it.”