Proposed gun range in Walters shot down

Published 12:55 pm Saturday, July 23, 2016

After a 2-1/2 hour public hearing on Thursday, the Isle of Wight County Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 to reject a conditional use permit allowing for a public shooting range to be established on 4007 Burdette Road in Walters. The people of the village, who have vocally opposed what they often referred to as a threat to their way of life, responded with whistles, cheers and applause.

Before the session began, board chairman Rex Alphin said, “I know this is a passionate issue. I just ask that you respect everybody.”

In May, American K-9 Interdiction President Paul J. Roushia asked the Planning Commission to allow for land at the site to be used so that people could have a place for target practice. Residents of Walters far outnumbered Roushia and his supporters. When he or others spoke for the plan, many in the audience called out against them. Commission chairman John Ford had to ask the audience to not interrupt.

But at the recent meeting, Alphin did not have to ask twice.

William Riddick, attorney for the applicant, was first allowed to address the board. He said the range’s service is “absolutely necessary,” and moved to withdraw the public portion of the permit and be allowed to amend it, such as limiting days and hours of operation to address concerns of noise and traffic.

Among the people who spoke:

• Elizabeth Britt called the plan “a horrible situation. I feel like it’s not fair. Most of us retired. Can’t we sit in our backyard without hearing Pop! Pop! Pop!”

• Roger Epperson said that he and his wife have lived there for 14 years and they’ve put everything they have into their home and land, working as both farmers and beekeepers. Noise can disturb bees in their work and population.

• Jennifer Boykin: “American K9 is thumbing its nose. Why are they using live fire now to acclimate dogs? Don’t be fooled by this last-minute [tactic]. Your decision should be ‘No.’ They [Roushia and supporters] have no respect for this county. Give them an inch and they’ll take a mile.”

She reminded the new supervisors that when they were campaigning, they said they would listen to the people. If they agreed to a new hearing, “Rest assured we’ll be back and we’ll be bigger.”

• Volpe Boykin noted that the company has had a cease and desist order for operating improperly.

“Is this the type of company you want running a shooting range? Those in favor of it don’t live here. We’re not fooled by this tactic, and hope you aren’t either.” His voice broke at one point, saying that voting to approve the permit would be voting to destroy the community.

When the hearing closed, Alphin thanked all spoke, and agreed it’s neither a second-amendment or business matter, but a quality of life issue.

“You can just sense how much they value what they have,” he said about the opponents in Walters, and asked his fellow board members to join him in denying the application.

And they did.

After Rudoph Jefferson of the Hardy District made his statement against the permit, Joel Acree for the Windsor District said, “I don’t think this is a good fit for our community.”

William McCarthy for the Newport District said, “I’m a big gun supporter. They [American K-9] have to understand that you cannot be in our community and go against an ordinance and ask what you willingly and openly violated.”