GAMBIER — A group of 20 unhappy residents of Harrison Township gathered at the monthly township trustees meeting Monday night. They were there to protest the trustees’ decision to sanction a gun range.
The gun range, known as Brothers in Arms Training, opened a range to train people in the proper handling of firearms, primarily for concealed carry permits. The range is owned by Bruce MacNichol at 23783 Caves Road.
Several concerned residents in the vicinity filed a complaint with the Harrison Township trustees about the range. When MacNichol was advised of the complaint, he filed for a conditional use zoning with the township.
The township Board of Zoning Appeals was given the complaint and scheduled a meeting to address the request. Mike Rager, zoning inspector, said the meeting was advertised as required by law in the newspaper and it appeared on Sept. 9 and 13.
The board met on Sept. 14 and voted 4 to 1 to approve the conditional use application. None of the township residents who filed the complaint were present at the BZA meeting.
The major complaint of the group attending Monday’s meeting was that the meeting was illegal because it had not been properly publicized.
The group showed up with a printed list of questions they wanted the trustees to answer. The questions dealt in large part with the scheduling of the meeting and if enough time was given between the public notice in the newspaper and the meeting date.
Township resident John Kaiser read the questions for the group.
“Many of these questions should be addressed to the members of the zoning board,” he said. “I requested that they be here for this meeting.”
Kaiser asked BZA secretary Ralph Dunmire how the meeting date was set.
“Josh (Stockberger) came by with the complaint and another one,” Dunmire said. “He asked me if Tuesday (Sept. 14) would be a good time for me. I said sure. I’ll say it was 10 days before the meeting that he asked.”
Other questions revolved around inspection of the site and whether it was verified the range had liability insurance.
Township resident Eric Helt pointed out there was not 10 days between the public notice and the meeting.
“You didn’t have a legitimate hearing,” he said. “Ten days is what is required to the interested parties and publication in the newspaper by the Ohio Revised Code. So I think you are going to have to do it again.”
Residents were also concerned about the safety of having a gun range in the area.
“Have you seen where it is?” Pat Kaiser asked. “It’s too near the road. You have a lot of Kenyon students jogging and riding bicycles there. And there are buggies, too. And there is a gas well and storage tank in the area. It’s just not safe.”
Other residents such as Don Jones expressed concern that there was not adequate back up for the range to protect against stray bullets.
“I moved here from Columbus to have a place out in the country where there wasn’t a neighbor within half a mile,” he said. “I wanted a place where I could get out and use my riding mower for three hours. And now this.”
The whole issue of the legality of the Harrison Township BZA decision may be moot. Gates indicated in an interview with the News that the township may not have jurisdiction in the matter.
“In my research on this I discovered that in Ohio a gun range is not subject to zoning,” he said. “Technically, the shooting range people can go on and continue doing this.”
Gates said a gun range is allowed to operate as long as it conforms to standards set by the National Rifle Association.
“This shocked me when I found out about it,” he said. “I would have assumed we would have some say over that. I will call the prosecutor [Tuesday] and find out what he has to say about this. We were just listening tonight and will not do anything until we get an opinion from the prosecutor.”
Knox County Prosecutor John Thatcher is legal council for all county government agencies, such as the county Commissioners and the township governments.
Wildlife Officer Mike Miller confirmed that a gun range was not subject to zoning regulations under Ohio law.
“I’ve had some of his neighbors call me and complain about it,” he said. “From the state’s perspective, as long as he is following NRA guidelines for range construction he is legal.”
MacNichol was at the meeting and basically answered two questions. He told the residents that he was indemnified against liability and that he was following the NRA guidelines. He left the meeting as soon as it was over and has been unavailable for comment.
“I think we got into something that is not specifically covered in our zoning regulations and tried to do the best we could,” Gates added. “But I will talk to the prosecutor and see what he has to say about it. Right now we are in limbo about it.”