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Critics say questions over firing range plans about public safety, not gun policy

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By Jeremy Johnson

FREDERICK — The proposal for a multi-purpose gun training and education center on 144 acres of land in Frederick is proving to be anything but a sure shot.

Frederick officials are in the early stages of consideration of a new proposal for a 10,800-square-foot education center and 64,000-square-foot covered “SportsPlex,” touted by developers as a $10-million to $20-million investment that could serve as an economic boon for the town of about 9,000 residents.

 

Frederick Certified Planner Chris Kennedy, who is leading the project, said the application — which has only been on file “for a few weeks” — is currently under review by town officials and Frederick residents, the latter of whom Kennedy said aired split opinions on the project when about 50 of them showed up at the first required neighborhood meeting.

The full plans for the project are available through the Town of Frederick’s website.

Kennedy said comments both for and against the project will be taken into consideration by the Frederick Planning Department and the town’s Board of Trustees who, together, will ultimately make the decision to approve or ax the proposal. Kennedy said property owners “within close proximity” to the proposed site do have a “say in the process, although they cannot deny the proposal per se.”

Kennedy and Town Planning Director Jennifer Simmons said the application is subject to the town’s stringent Land Use Code and is subject to review by multiple parties, including town staff and county officials, utility companies, other affected districts, mineral interest holders and impacted property owners.

Kennedy said, in making the decision, his department and trustees will certainly consider upsides like potential positive economic impact, but said the town’s “primary concern is the safety and quality of life of its citizens and those that reside in Weld County on the edge of the community.”

 

SAFE enough?

Though the name of the group proposing the site is an acronym meant to invoke feelings of security, some residents believe the proposal by the Second Amendment Firearms Experience, or SAFE, is anything but. 

And at least one them said their opposition to the project is based simply on memory.

Ron Haake doesn’t technically live in Frederick, but his Fort Lupton address on Weld County Road 19 is within a mile of SAFE’s proposed site on the far eastern side of Frederick, along the S-curve of Route 52 nearly county roads 14 and 17.

Haake, who said he considers himself “pro-gun,” was one of six residents who spoke out against the project at Frederick’s regular board of trustees meeting May 13 at the Frederick Town Hall.

“I’m very close to (the proposed site) and very opposed to it for personal reasons, including safety and noise concerns,” Haake said in a phone interview June 26. “This is not about having an anti-gun or pro-gun stance. This isn’t about a gun stance at all.”

Haake called the proposal “asinine” and said, during his time serving in the military, he became all too familiar with what can go wrong on a gun range.

“We’re talking about training with rifles that have a 2-plus-mile range and the closest residential property is probably 2,000 feet away,” he said. “I don’t think it’s as good as (developers) say.”

Haake said there is also a precedent for safety concerns dating back to 2000, when both The Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News reported on bullets from a police training exercise that strayed into a nearby Weld County neighborhood.

According to a story published Aug. 1, 2000, by Post staff writer Jim Hughes, stray bullets from automatic rifles during a training session for the Tri-Area Containment Team struck the homes of two residents living within two miles of the impromptu training site, which was located between Route 52 and County Road 14 – less than a mile from SAFE’s proposed site.

As part of his objection to the proposal, Haake said he read those reports to board members at their last meeting.

“I think it makes for good ammunition against (the proposal), pardon the pun,” Haake said.

Similar stories are not hard to find: Just weeks ago KOAM-TV reported on a howitzer artillery shell fired from an Oklahoma gun range that damaged a residence three miles away. And in February, authorities from the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office in Illinois said the bullet that struck a woman in the face came from errant rounds fired on a gun range a half-mile away. 

“They have to be nuts to consider this thing,” Haake concluded.

 

Property lines, not politics

Kennedy said proponents and opponents of the project are essentially split based on property lines more than the politics of guns.

“It is important to note that those in favor of the project generally do not live near the proposed location, and some do not live in Frederick at all,” he said. “Those against the project typically live within a mile or so of the proposed site.”

Simmons said Savannah is the biggest neighborhood near the site at about a half-mile away, and said there are also “a number or rural homes adjacent to the property.” She said safety is a concern, but said she couldn’t address that concern just yet as those talks are part of the ongoing review process.

Kennedy said he is also aware of residents’ safety concerns.

“There is concern over safety. The developer is proposing outdoor ranges that are not covered, so there is the possibility that some rounds could escape the site,” Kennedy said. “However, the developer is proposing berms and backstops that are higher than industry standard, and is also proposing the use of what is called ‘frangible’ ammunition … which is supposed to break apart easily upon impact.

“The people against it have concerns about stray bullets escaping the facility and hitting people, pets and property,” he added. “They also have a concern about noise.”

Ultimately, Kennedy said the Town of Frederick will have to contract an outside firm to conduct an overall safety analysis “because nobody on the staff here (in Frederick) is an expert in the field of range design.”

 

Safety: Part of the plan

On their website (www.second-amendment.com), SAFE outlines both safety and sound concerns, saying they plan to use lead-free, “green” and frangible ammunition and “advanced sound reduction technologies … developed by NASA.”

“Almost no training facilities in the country utilize these technologies because of the cost,” the website reports. “But we could not imagine operating our facility without them. Substantial noise reduction makes training considerably more comfortable for our students as well as our community.”

And while the facility is intended to serve primarily law enforcement officers – SAFE says on the website that it is not open to the public as a common shooting range – any “civilian students” will be carefully screened prior to admittance into the facilities.

“We are an education and training center,” the website reads. “Graduates of one or more of our two-day courses may purchase a SAFE … access card enabling them to use designated areas to practice and keep their skills sharp within one year of their course under the supervision of our highly experienced law enforcement instructor staff.”

  SAFE did not respond to a request for comment.

 

Contact Staff Writer Jeremy Johnson at 303-659-2522, ext. 217, or jjohnson@metrowestnewspapers.com.