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Tactical training finds a place in Madison County

In the Friday, May 13 edition of the Madison Enterprise-Recorder, an account ran that gave the results of a recent Board of County Commissioners meeting where the tactical training facility of a Madison County property owner, Steven Williams, was discussed.

Williams constructed an air force approved firing range and leased the use of the range to the Moody Air Force Base, in Valdosta.  A neighbor of Williams, Gary Dorris, had brought the complaint to the county commissioners, claiming that the range was a noise nuisance, a safety hazard and threatening to the environment.

While Dorris pled his case hard, insisting that he would not have purchased the neighboring property had he known his neighbor was going to have a loud shooting range, the commissioners decided to not inflict code punishment upon Williams. He was, however, ordered to go through the correct avenues to permit and license his range.

Instead, the commissioners chose to look into their own ordinances and found that there was nothing pertaining to the zoning and permitting of firing, shooting and tactical training ranges.

During their Wednesday, June 22 meeting, the county commissioners again came together to discuss the next step.  Working along the Planning and Zoning Board, the commissioners held a public hearing for amending the ordinance of the Madison County Land Development Code to allow governmental and private facilities, which will principally be used for military or law enforcement type training.  That training could include exercises in stationary, mobile and combat shooting methods and tactics.

By special exception requests, landowners could come to the proper committee and request permission to put a shooting/firing range on their property.

The Planning and Zoning Board would evaluate the request, and if they found it worthy of a possible approval, they would send it to the county commissioners.

From there, commissioners would place it on the agenda and notify the land and home owners that border the property that is in inquiry about receiving a firing/shooting range and give the surrounding property owners the chance to come to the meeting, where the range will be discussed.

There, neighbors and property owners, who would be impacted by the range, will have the opportunity to speak either for or against the range before the commissioners decide whether or not to grant an approval on the range request.

It is a long course that could take weeks to become approved, but it makes certain that no ranges are being used for profit without proper permitting, and that neighbors have a say in the range before it is constructed so that future quarrels can, hopefully, be deterred.

“[This ordinance] would provide a method where the county commissioners could approve such facilities, should it desire to do so in the future,” said County Attorney Tommy Reeves.  “It does not approve any particular facility, and it does not guarantee that we are approving them; it just gives the board the ability to accept applications for special exceptions.”

In order for range requests to be approved, they would need to be within the guidelines set by the National Rifle Association (NRA) for gun ranges, which would provide added safety for property owners and those who are using the range.

“We really tried to look from all different angles [when writing the ordinance],” said Chairman of the Planning and Zoning Board Mack Primm. “We tried to protect the local backyard gun enthusiast…that way there would be no way we are looking to be impairing the second amendment at all.”  The Planning and Zoning Board, however, wanted to make certain that while hobbyist gun owners are protected and not having their rights overlooked, those who are running a commercial gun range do have the proper steps to move through before they can go into business.

At the Wednesday, June 22 meeting, commissioners briefly read the ordinance and then opened the floor to citizen participation.

During that period, various citizens got up and expressed their concerns about allowing firing ranges and tactical training facilities in Madison County.

Two of the largest concerns were regarding the property values of surrounding land, whether or not there will be enough economic benefit to support lowered property rates and how noise complaints would be handled. The question as to why more firing ranges were needed when the Madison County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) already has their own range was posed.  The inquiring citizen asked why the existing range could not be formatted to allow the community to have use of it or why Moody Air Force could not also train there.

Sheriff Ben Stewart also came forward to remind the public that local law enforcement did not request the ordinance in any way, nor were they instrumental in helping create it.

“The Sheriff’s office does not make laws, we only enforce them,” said Sheriff Stewart.    He wished to clarify that, while the ordinance does mention law enforcement training, MCSO was not in any way responsible or pushing for the ordinance to come about.

“There is a lot of wording that is not in the ordinance, mainly because if they [MCSO] receive[s] complaints from the public regarding noise, times of shooting, a stray round or anything like that, we will be addressing it,” said Sheriff Stewart. “I do hope that whoever does go through the procedure for a firing range, has a little bit of common sense.”

Following public comment, commissioners voted whether or not to accept the amending of the land development code.

Commissioners voted 5-0 to allow the code to be changed in order to allow citizens who wish to open a commercial gun range the opportunity to apply for a special exception permit and begin the proceedings that lead up to receiving the required permission.

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