A plan to turn a Stillwater furniture building into an indoor shooting range has come under fire from several residents who contend that the project could lead to noise and traffic problems and depressed property values.
Two Stillwater citizens filed appeals with the city last month in hopes of generating more discussion about the Minnesota Shooting Academy’s plan to buy the Simonet’s Furniture Outlet Building on Curve Crest Boulevard and convert it to 14-lane indoor shooting range for public and law enforcement use. The range would include retail space, a lounge and training rooms.
A public hearing on the project is scheduled for Aug. 18 before the Stillwater City Council.
The city Planning Commission approved the project July 8 by a 5-3 vote (with one abstention) after granting the academy a special-use permit and variances.
But in appealing that decision, Melissa Douglas said that commission members did not have sufficient information to allow full evaluation of the proposal. Douglas, who has been a city planner in Shoreview and Woodbury and performed consulting work for the city of Stillwater, said she filed her appeal as a resident of the city and not in a professional capacity.
Douglas wrote that shooting ranges “may impose negative impacts upon adjoining land owners, nearby residents and the broader community, including noise, lead pollution, depressed property values and even potentially physical harm.”
She also wrote that the neighborhood where the range would be built is not zoned for such use.
Douglas cited a provision of the city code that defines a shooting range as a commercial-recreational use of property. The Simonet’s building, however, is situated in a business park-office district and is near Abrahamson Nurseries, Arrow Building Center, Brine’s Market, Haskell’s and Stillwater Veterinary Clinic.
City Planner Abbi Jo Wittman, in her presentation to the Planning Commission, categorized the shooting range as an amusement and recreational establishment, which is allowed — with a special-use permit — in a business park-office district. The commission also approved a variance, which would allow the range to occupy 7,000 square feet of the building, more than double the space the city allows for amusement and recreation establishments.
Douglas, however, argued in her appeal that the range is effectively “using the variance process to allow a use otherwise not permitted in a specific zoning district.” Such use variances are not permitted under state law or city code, her appeal stated.
In another appeal, Stillwater resident Ann Kochsiek questioned the Planning Commission’s evaluation of the possible noise level of air exchangers or other equipment associated with the range.
She also requested a study of the traffic that the range could generate at the intersection of Curve Crest and Washington Avenue, and questioned whether the academy would have classrooms to house the training and safety classes managers said it would offer.
Mark Kamas, training director and a manager of Minnesota Shooting Academy, said in a letter to the Planning Commission that the range walls would be made of 8-inch-thick concrete and the ceiling would have steel baffle that would act as a barrier and dampen sound.
Roger Tomten, the architect who designed the Simonet’s building, told the commission that the range would be “a concrete box within the concrete box” of 12-inch masonry walls that make up the building’s exterior.
“The sound would be encapsulated within the first shell,” Tomten said. “Then we’ve got kind of a second shell as a buffer again to handle any sound that might get out.”
Stillwater resident Diane Dietz, who lives a few blocks from the proposed range, told the planning commission that she also has concerns about noise and traffic.
“I’ve invested to make my house and neighborhood better,” she said. “I believe a lot of other people simply do not want to move near a shooting range. This will devalue my house and devalue my investment.”
Planning Commission member Jenna Fletcher, who voted against project approval, said she had concerns about the apparent lack of restrictions on the types of firearms allowed there.
“I’m a little concerned we don’t have some ordinance in place that would help specify what we as a city believe should be the conditions under which we allow operation of an indoor shooting range,” she said.
But Michael Kocon, Planning Commission chairman, who voted in favor of granting the special-use permit and variances, said he considers the issue a business decision.
“I don’t own a gun. I’m not a big gun fan,” he said. “But we’re talking about a business in a business park. … I think it’s viable.”
Todd Nelson is a freelance writer in Woodbury. His e-mail address is email@example.com.