The owner of a Hosier Road shooting range and the civic league representing the town’s neighboring Skeetertown area will meet in early July to discuss concerns about adding outdoor shooting ranges and a school to provide tactical and non-tactical instruction, education and safety training on the 284-acre property.
The applicant, Jack Claude of Hoggard-Eure Associates, on behalf of owners Kevin Glenn and Hosier Road Associates II LLC and Hosier Road Associates III LLC, has proposed several firing ranges – a 200 and 800 meter firing range and a 50-meter shooting range on four acres of property at 1255 Hosier Road. They are designed to accommodate 12 members at a time. It also offers the retail sale of firearms and ammunition for incidental use at shooting ranges. The ranges are already there and would not require any new construction.
A school has also been proposed on 10 acres of the gated property at 1444 Hosier Road to provide tactical and non-tactical training to federal, state, local and municipal personnel and the general public, and guests will be required to pay membership fees to become members. The facilities for the school are already existing elements of the property and would not require any construction, and on this side there is also a dirt sports area, several buildings and parking.
The meeting between the civic league and the shooting range owner will take place on July 12, before the next Planning Commission meeting on July 19 to review a pair of conditional use permits for both uses.
The commission held a public meeting earlier this month to discuss permit applications when the Reverend Randy Skeeter, president of the Skeetertown Civic League, said no one associated with permit applications had met with the neighborhood to describe its plans and address any concerns. The commission filed permit applications for 30 days.
Among the concerns expressed by Skeeter at the June 21 public hearing of the commission were those about stray bullets likely to escape from the property and land in a nearby yard and whether it would be a “Blackwater-type” facility, referring to the United States Training Center (formerly the Blackwater Training Center) located on approximately 7,000 acres in northeastern North Carolina near the Great Dismal Swamp, which provides tactical training and on weapons to the military, government and law enforcement agencies.
“It seemed like most of the boxes were checked, based on the presentation, as to who needed to hear about it, except people who live in the community,” Skeeter said. “I’m here right now to tell you that on behalf of the civic league, we oppose this because this particular community, even though this proposed facility is at the end of the civic league boundary of Skeetertown, it encompasses a community right down… Hosier Road, where the density is starting to get low because that’s how it’s zoned, but (there are) a lot of houses that have been there for a long time.
William Hunter, owner of land adjacent to the proposed facility, said he was concerned about the shooting and the noise. He said he uses his property to hunt and said he wanted his hours limited during hunting season.
Bear Swamp Outdoors’ Human Performance Center, the name of the facility according to an account submitted as part of the permit application by Jack Claude of Hoggard-Eure Associates, currently has outdoor firing ranges on the east and west sides of Hosier Road, which is made up of three properties – one at 1255 Hosier Road on the west side of the road and the other two on the east side of the road at 1444 Hosier Road.
Claude said in response to the opposition that the type of people who would use the facility would not pull over the protective berms and that in over 20 years there have been no complaints about the site.
“These are people here to train,” Claude said. “They’re federal, they’re state, they’re local, mostly law enforcement.” He said others who would be there would include people like him who want to get better at shooting.
The site would have range safety officers who must be certified for this role.
He and Glenn said they had operated there for 22 years and noted that Suffolk Police officers visited the facility. Glenn said about 25 to 30 officers were there to learn how to deal with large crowds of people who have guns. He said he would also enter into a memorandum of understanding to allow police, firefighters and other first responders to use the facility.
The properties received approval for a zoning permit from the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources in November for a hunting, fishing and hunting recreation club, which does not require a conditional use permit. However, the property received a notice of violation from the city in April for providing an outdoor shooting range without a conditional use permit.
The app narrative for the project states that guests would need to check in and park at 1444 Hosier Road, and for those wishing to use the other firing ranges across the road, they would be taken by bus and escorted by a range staff member. . Any firearms would also be securely fixed in one of the buildings when not in use. The proposed hours for the ranges would be dawn to dusk.
Due to the site’s proximity to Suffolk Executive Airport, an airport representative reviewed the request and did not object to the firing ranges. It also cannot exceed a noise level of 60 decibels between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. and 55 decibels from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. A noise level exhibit submitted with the application showed that the sound should not exceed 53.8 decibels at any sample point.
Portions of properties facing Hosier Road that do not have dense established vegetation would have an 8 foot fence and would be fenced and locked at all times. There would also be 50 surveillance cameras throughout the property, no trespassing signs in areas devoid of dense vegetation, and certified first aid personnel on the property at all times.
All outdoor ranges will have berms 20 feet high and 11 feet wide. The staff report states that “these safety measures, together with recommended licensing conditions, should prevent ranges from becoming an injury or danger to public health, safety, morals, comfort or property. -to be general”.
The planning staff recommended approval of the ranges and the private school, with conditions.
Hoggard-Eure Associates President Raeford Eure provided a history of the property, noting that it was once owned by late Congressman Owen Pickett, who used it for political meetings and to shoot pheasants. He said Suffolk would benefit from such a facility.
“I think there’s a misconception here,” Eure said. “This is about a group of people who enjoy the camaraderie of hunting, deer hunting, which is abundant there, on the frontier, on the edge of the (Great) Dismal Swamp, bear hunting , etc. It’s not like it was alluded to… a Blackwater training center for the army, or anything.