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Berkeley County shooting range defended during planning meeting

January 07, 2013|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD | matthewu@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — An attorney representing a Hedgesville, W.Va.-area gun range told the Berkeley County Planning Commission Monday night that the business owner believes it is in compliance with county regulations.

Tango Down Range at 1391 Allensville Road has been targeted by nearby residents who have aired safety and noise concerns.

Attorney Charles S. Trump IV said his client “absolutely wants to comply with the law and certainly has.”

Trump said the business owned by Jimmy McWilliams has been operating on a shale pit site owned by Robert Butts, who still mines shale from the property nearby.

Trump said mining activities are exempt from county regulations according to state law and also noted that his client disturbed less than 3,000 square feet of land in developing the gun range. The square-footage threshold for requiring certain county planning rules to be followed is more than 5,000 square feet.

Steve Thomas of the Berkeley County Planning Department told planning commissioners it appeared to him from looking at aerial photographs that 35,000 square feet of land were disturbed.

Shooting range supporters and those concerned about the business nearly filled Berkeley County Council chambers for Monday’s meeting. Several people who attended repeatedly spoke out of turn in the audience and disrupted what was being said.

County legal counsel Norwood Bentley III, who spoke at length, became irritated by the chatter and at one point turned around and told them to be quiet.

McWilliams, when directly questioned, said he obtained two building permits for pavilion structures but didn’t do any grading of the range area.  

While the business could be found to be exempt from county planning regulations, Bentley said no use or occupancy permit was granted by the Berkeley County Engineering Department for the business. Follow-up inspections on what was built on the property also still need to be completed, he said.

“The building code still needs to be satisfied,” Bentley said.
Bentley also said he and other county staff were “skeptical” of the shooting range owner’s claims that so little of the property was disturbed.

Bentley also said that the Berkeley County Sheriff’s Department would be measuring the volume of shooting sound coming from the range at a home closest to the property to determine if there are noise ordinance violations.

Planning Commissioner Linda Barnhart and others on the commission asked for assurance in writing that the facility met safety criteria recognized by the National Rifle Association.

Commission President Donald Fox said he compared another shooting range’s facilities in Berkeley County with Tango Down Range and suggested more safety measures could be put in place.

Douglas Webb, one of several concerned residents who attended the meeting, publicly invited the owners of the shooting range to his house to hear the noise levels after Trump invited commissioners to see the operation firsthand.

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