Plan for gun club near high school ignites debate in Osseo

  • Article by: KELLY SMITH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 14, 2013 - 9:54 PM

City leaders see a business plus. But school officials worry.

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The Osseo High School football team ran through blocking drills during practice after school.

Photo: Bruce Bisping, Star Tribune

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Supporters and opponents of plans for a gun range in Osseo just two blocks from a high school are expected to pack a city meeting Monday at which the proposal will be discussed.

The $3.3 million gun club would include a 20-lane shooting range and a gun shop, opening by this fall if it gets city approval over the next month.

As firearm sales increase across the Twin Cities, supporters say the gun club will serve a growing population of metro area gun owners and attract visitors to the small northwestern suburb.

But less than 500 feet away, leaders at Osseo High School worry it could threaten students’ safety.

“The location is the main concern; it’s too close to the school,” Osseo Assistant Superintendent Kim Riesgraf said.

Across Minnesota, more gun stores and shooting ranges are opening up to meet rising demand. At the state Department of Natural Resources, shooting range coordinator Chuck Niska hears about new gun ranges or proposed ones almost weekly, adding to the more than 400 existing gun ranges, archery ranges and game preserves statewide.

“There’s always an interest,” Niska said, adding that there are no state regulations limiting how close a shooting range is from a school; that’s up to local cities and counties.

In Osseo, the controversial proposal is expected to draw hundreds of gun advocates and school leaders at Monday’s Planning Commission meeting to discuss developer Chris Williamson’s $3.3 million plan.

His plans for a new 18,000-square-foot building on what is now an empty parking lot in the middle of Osseo would include a 20-lane gun range, retail gun shop, gunsmithing space and gun safety classrooms.

Williamson could add a second floor with another 20-lane shooting range in the future.

“It’s a growing sport,” he said.

In the 2,400-resident town that’s less than one square mile long, City Council Member Mark Schultz said the gun club would draw tax revenue from new residents and visitors, which would Osseo’s downtown.

“We’re a little tiny city stuck between Maple Grove and Brooklyn Park,” he said. “We’re not necessarily going to build out, but up. … He’s taking an empty lot and turning it into a beautiful building.”

Threat or ‘destination’?

At a May city meeting, several residents spoke out in favor of the gun range, hoping it will boost business. At the school district, Riesgraf said they understand the benefits to local businesses, but that school leaders just want to ensure student safety at the 1,500-student high school. She worries that gun owners walking from the gun club with firearms could be mistaken as a threat to school safety.

“Is that a person going to the gun range or do we have to worry about a threatening person?” she said.

It’s a concern that Schultz understands as a parent of a high school student, but he said the gun range is likely sparking controversy given the contentious topic of gun rights nationally, especially in light of school shootings.

“My primary concern is they aren’t overreacting,” Schultz said of the school district. “I don’t see any concerns with the project.”

After the Planning Commission gives its recommendations Monday, the Economic Development Authority, which Schultz is also on, is expected to vote on the final development agreement June 24.

If it’s approved, the City Council likely would be asked to give final approval on it in July. Williamson said he’d begin construction immediately so the Osseo Gun Club could open by October. “It’s going to be a first-class facility,” he said.

That’s what city leaders like Schultz are hoping for.

“We need another business that will be a destination to our city,” Schultz said. “This is going to help revitalize our whole downtown area.”

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