Larry Varner is taking aim at opening an indoor shooting range within the St. Clair city limits. And, if a few things fall into place, he just may hit his target.
Varner pitched his proposal at the end of Monday night’s planning and zoning board meeting. He said he hopes to move his business, St. Clair Gun & Pawn, from its current location at 1002 South Outer Road to the old bowling alley at 795 N. Commercial Ave.
And his plans include opening and operating a licensed shooting range inside the building.
“That’s my intention,” Varner told the planners. “I’ve gotten very positive feedback in the community about it. I think we’re 40 to 50 miles away from the closest one (range).
“I think it would be a good thing for St. Clair.”
Varner said he bought the old bowling alley in November and has been planning his move ever since.
“Where the lanes are is where the shooting will be,” he said, adding 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.
If everything falls into place, Varner said his goal would be to relocate and open the range in the autumn or winter. No food or alcohol would be served, but certified personnel would be on hand at all times.
He also would have to by approved by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives as well as other agencies.
The planners gave their blessing to the idea and will discuss it further. Final approval will need to be granted by the board of aldermen.
Before Varner’s project can become a reality, a couple of things need to happen first, board Chairman Myrna Turner, City Inspector Jeremy Crowe and City Attorney Kurt Voss said.
The first is that Varner needs to fill out an application to officially request the bowling alley property be rezoned from residential to commercial.
That parcel, as well as several others 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, McDonald’s and others are residential even though business activity takes place on them.
Once Varner has filed the application, he needs to reappear before the planning and zoning board, and a public hearing on the change needs to be scheduled and conducted.
Once that happens, the aldermen can approve the rezoning.
Also, it currently is against the law for a firearm to be discharged within city limits.
The aldermen would have to amend that ordinance and specifically state that guns can be fired inside the range.
“You will need to recommend that the city amend the ordinance,” Voss told the planners. “Discharging a weapon will require an ordinance change, but that can be done.”
Currently, in the city’s code of ordinances, Section 16-4 states that “Any person who shall unlawfully or promiscuously fire or shoot off any gun or pistol, or who shall set off, use, burn, explode or fire any firecrackers, fireworks, torpedoes, bombs, rockets, pinwheels, fire balloons, Roman candles, toy cannons or any other fireworks of a like kind within the city shall be deemed guilty of an offense.”
An individual in violation can be fined up to $500 and/or jailed for up to six months.
Finally, the city will need to approve allowing the firing of guns as a permitted use under the specifics of allowing the shooting range on a commercial property.
The planners made and passed a motion on Monday that recommends the aldermen change the city code to allow approved indoor gun ranges in commercial and industrial zones as a permitted use.
The board also discussed placing a conditional use on the property, but opted to go the permitted use route.
If passed by the city, that means Varner will not have any specific conditions on his range as long as it meets specifications and requirements as determined by law.