After three public hearings and two unanimous recommendations, the St. Clair Planning and Zoning Board put its full support behind Larry Varner and his quest to bring an indoor shooting range to the city.
The planners conducted their July meeting on Monday night in city hall, and items targeting the proposed shooting range made up the majority of the agenda as well as all three public hearings scheduled beforehand.
In the end, the board unanimously voted to recommend to allow indoor shooting ranges as a permitted use within commercial and industrial zoning districts and unanimously voted to recommend approval of a rezoning request that would make the future shooting range property commercial.
The St. Clair Board of Aldermen has final say on the shooting range and all things relating to it. It will take up the issue at a later date and possibly as early as next Monday.
Varner, owner of St. Clair Gun & Pawn, purchased the old bowling alley at 795 N. Commercial Ave. late last year, and wants to move his business from 1002 South Outer Road and open the licensed range as well.
He has several hoops to get through first, some of which were cleared on Monday.
“I’m trying to put an indoor gun range inside the bowling alley,” Varner told the planners on Monday. “I haven’t really done anything yet (pending approval). ...
“I’m amazed and shocked by the positive response to this gun range. Hopefully, this will be an asset to the community.”
Until his way is cleared, Varner said he is letting the building sit idle.
The planners first discussed the range during their June meeting.
On Monday, the planners’ main concern about the permitted use in commercial and industrial districts within the city was that the range meets all federal guidelines and building code requirements. They also want to make sure the facility coincides with the city’s comprehensive plan in regard to commercial districts.
Varner said the exterior of the building would either be concrete-filled blocks or steel walls that satisfy all safety requirements for shooting ranges.
“Obviously, we don’t want any casualties,” he said.
He and city Building Inspector Jeremy Crowe said a certified engineer would oversee and inspect the project to make sure it meets all state and federal safety guidelines.
Varner said where the old bowling alley lanes are located is where the shooting will be and that the front of the building will house his current gun and pawn business.
Varner said the new space, measuring 11,300 square feet, is more than adequate to house his current business as well as the range.
No food or alcohol would be served, and certified personnel would be on hand at all times.
He also would have to be approved by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and other agencies.
The zoning change recommendation was made because of a law currently in the books. The old bowling alley, as well as several other parcels in St. Clair where businesses are operating, are under a blanket residential zoning classification passed decades ago.
Crowe currently is working on identifying what each parcel is zoned within the city after it was discovered that the bowling alley, the McDonald’s restaurant and others are residential even though business activity takes place on them.
With little discussion, the planners on Monday made the recommendation to rezone the property.
The public hearings were scheduled before the regular meeting to gather input on various things relating to the shooting range.
The first dealt with a request to amend a city ordinance allowing weapons to be discharged within a federally licensed indoor shooting range inside city limits. The second centered on gaining public input on amending the city ordinance to add indoor shooting ranges as a permitted use in certain commercial- and industrial-zoned districts. The third concerned the rezoning of the property.
The only individuals who spoke besides Varner were Paula and Josh Dace, who own property next door to the alley.
They both said they were not against the shooting range, but were concerned about the safety of having one nearby.
It was during the public hearings when Varner discussed the exterior construction of the buildings and using either the steel walls or concrete-filled blocks.