GAMBIER — After learning a Harrison Township Board of Zoning Appeals public hearing held on Sept. 14, was invalid, a Caves Road property owner said he would not reapply for a conditional use permit to open a gun range because it was not required by law.
“If they want to rescind (the conditional use certificate) they can,” said property owner Bruce MacNichol. “By the laws of the state of Ohio, I don’t need it. I told (the township) I would still honor the restrictions they placed on me in the (conditional use) agreement. But I would not go through the process again. I checked with ODNR and they told me I don’t even need it. They told me as long as I follow the NRA guidelines for gun ranges I was OK.”
“From what I’ve read in the Ohio Revised Code, it’s very tough for us to touch that,” said Claude Gates, Harrison Township trustee. “Technically, it’s considered a new range and it comes under the [regulation of] ODNR.”
The BZA hearing was ruled invalid, according to Knox County Prosecutor John Thatcher, because a 10-day public notice is required for such hearings.
The issue began when MacNichol decided to open a shooting range on his property on Caves Road, between Gambier and Millwood.
“We’ve been shooting out here for years,” MacNichol said about his gun range. “The thing I’ve always been concerned about is safety. That’s what I teach and what I want to promote. I knew we had to make the range safer because we were basically shooting into a hillside. So we went ahead and basically dug out the hillside. Then we got what’s called the ‘Range Source Book’ from the National Rifle Association. We built the range according to the source book. We’re all certified instructors (MacNichol and his two sons). We’ve gone to some other classes and they were terrible. So I said ‘Let’s teach our own classes.’ There’s nothing I hate to see more than a story of someone getting hurt because of a gun being mishandled.”
MacNichol first set up a class for the Ohio concealed carry permit. It was the classes being offered by others for the permit that disturbed him the most.
“The Ohio code says applicants need 12 hours of training,” MacNichol explained. “Ours is 16. We evaluate the people and they have to pass each step as they pass the course. Once we started building the range, the township guy came around and said some people had complained about there being a big shooting range down there. I asked him what I needed to do. He told me I had to apply for a conditional use certificate, so I did. We paid the money and gave them all the plans and our safety rules.
“Then I got a registered letter from the township saying the (BZA) meeting was going to be on the 14th (of September). I went before the zoning board with my instructors and cases of information about the codes and requirements. Ohio refers to the NRA ‘Resource Book’ and follows its guidelines.
“I presented it all to them. They asked a lot of questions and then they voted on it. ... I had the approval.”
At that point MacNichol went ahead and ordered training materials and equipment. Then he was informed there were going to be concerned residents coming before the trustees at its regular meeting Monday night.
During Monday’s regularly scheduled meeting, Harrison Township trustees heard complaints from about 20 township residents concerning the gun range. Residents’ concerns included the range was a noise nuisance, safety concerns and whether the conditional use certificate given to the range by the township BZA was legal.
Although Thatcher could not comment on the specifics of the situation when the News talked with him, he did go over the standard zoning procedures that all townships must follow.
Thatcher said the Ohio Revised Code is silent on the specific procedures that a township BZA must follow in considering applications for conditional zoning certificates. There are slightly different rules for a conditional use hearing and an appeals hearing.
“Presumably, a BZA would employ the same notice and hearing procedures for a conditional zoning certificate that it uses in an appeal,” Thatcher said.
While procedures for an appeal hearing before a BZA requires notification of adjacent property owners, the procedure for issuing a conditional use certificate does not.
According to MacNichol, Brothers In Arms Training will continue as planned.