Controversial gun club in Osseo is headed for final approval in July

  • Article by: KELLY SMITH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 25, 2013 - 1:42 PM

Supporters say the gun club will draw business to Osseo; critics say it’s too close to Osseo High School.

A plan for a controversial gun club in Osseo heads to the City Council and Economic Development Authority next month for a final vote after gun owners from across the Twin Cities packed recent city meetings to support it.

As the contentious topic of gun rights heats up nationally, plans for the $3.3 million Osseo Gun Club have divided the small community but spurred support from gun owners as firearm sales soar across the metro.

“It’s one of those lightning rod issues,” Mayor Duane Poppe said.

A conditional use permit for the gun club was unanimously approved June 17 by the Planning Commission at a packed meeting with nearly 100 people. It got final approval Monday from a split City Council, which supported it 3-2.

The last green light for the project is expected July 8, when the Economic Development Authority and City Council consider whether to approve the developer’s agreement.

“It’s got a good chance of approval,” said Kevin Rebman, president of the Economic Development Authority. “We always listen to the concerns of residents. But there is no real safety issue.”

While supporters say the gun club will attract visitors to the small northwestern suburb wedged between larger Maple Grove and Brooklyn Park, critics — largely school district officials — fear that adding a gun club two blocks from Osseo High School and nearby Osseo Junior High could threaten students’ safety.

“I’m just concerned with the proximity of the gun range to the school,” Junior High Principal Brian Chance told the Planning Commission last week.

The 18,000-square-foot building would replace what is now an empty parking lot and would have a 20-lane gun range, retail gun shop, gunsmithing space and gun safety classrooms, with the option to add a second-floor 20-lane shooting range in the future.

Developer Chris Williamson said construction would begin immediately if his plans get final approval next month. The gun club could open this fall.

“I never expected this type of controversy. We’re just trying to take a business to the next level,” he said of the online gun store owned by him and his wife. “I think a lot of the concerns are overblown. If you put it three miles down the road, you’re going to still have someone against it.”

He and other supporters say the business will revitalize Osseo’s downtown, making the 2,400-resident city that’s less than one square mile a destination for the growing group of gun owners in the Twin Cities.

“What this town needs is a destination business. This is without question the greatest opportunity this town has had in forever,” Martin Duffy told the Planning Commission as the owner of Duffy’s Bar and Grill next to the gun club’s location. “People will come to Osseo from 50 miles away.”

Of nearly 100 people at the meeting, he was one of more than 20 Osseo business leaders and gun owners from Coon Rapids, St. Paul and across the Twin Cities who packed the Planning Commission meeting to advocate for the gun club. Meanwhile, four residents and two school district leaders spoke up with concerns about the location less than 500 feet from the high school and junior high school.

Superintendent Kate McGuire told the city officials that they worry that gun owners walking from the gun club with firearms could be mistaken as a threat to school safety, spurring lockdowns.

“It is fairly traumatic for students in a time when school shootings are way too common,” Chance added.

Poppe said he too was initially concerned about the location, but realized that the gun club will be built to fit into the city to make sure it doesn’t add noise or other negative effects on nearby residents and the schools. “The biggest thing is education ... and helping minimize the impact on the school district and community,” he said.

According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, there are no state regulations limiting how close a shooting range can be from a school; that’s up to local cities and counties. The department lists more than 400 gun ranges, archery ranges and game preserves statewide.

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