Shooting range plans withdrawn in a tale of two towns and two approaches to planning, approval

By Steve Smith
Posted 10/22/14

FREDERICK — For the second time in two years, developers of a proposed multi-purpose gun training and education center in the Carbon Valley region have withdrawn their application.

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Shooting range plans withdrawn in a tale of two towns and two approaches to planning, approval


FREDERICK — For the second time in two years, developers of a proposed multi-purpose gun training and education center in the Carbon Valley region have withdrawn their application.

This past spring, a company called Second Amendment Firearms Experience (SAFE) submitted a proposal with the Frederick planning department for a 10,800-square-foot gun training and education center and 64,000-square-foot covered “SportsPlex,” touted by developers as a $10-million to $20-million investment that would create as many as 300 new jobs in the region.

That application was submitted with town planners about a year after a similar proposal with the Town of Firestone had been withdrawn amid controversy over safety and noise concerns, as well as procedural issues.

According to published reports in the Longmont Times-Call and the Denver Post, SAFE’s first proposal banked on the annexation into Firestone of a 900-acre property near Colo. Highway 66 and Weld County Road 17 known as Kurtz Ranch. But when neighbors began objecting to the proposal — two separate hearings resulted in more than nine hours of public comment — and lawyers for the opposition stepped in questioning Firestone’s approval procedures, owners of Kurtz Ranch withdrew their request for annexation and the SAFE proposal was ultimately withdrawn.

Eric Liebman, an attorney representing a group of about 20 residents living in or near Firestone and referring to themselves as “Save the Vrain,” sent letters to Firestone in February 2013 accusing the town of “violating” its own regulations and procedures, as well as state and federal ones. Two months later, owners of Kurtz Ranch backed out.

SAFE managing partner Ron Abramson said in an interview Oct. 7 that the Firestone proposal was withdrawn “because we were unable to redesign the facility with enough time to allow us to continue to keep our contract with the property.” 

In regard to that first proposal, Abramson said Firestone was the “most terrific community to work with,” and expressed regret that the project was unable to come to fruition there.

As for the latest proposal, Abramson placed the blame firmly on the Frederick planning department.


“Too many
stumbling blocks”

Abramson said there was virtually “zero opposition” from residents in regard to the Frederick proposal. 

“We have received literally hundreds of calls, emails and letters of support … from residents of Frederick who were excited we were going to be located in their community,” Abramson said. 

“There were only a handful of residents who had issues with the project, and the irony of it is that the few people who did oppose it would have become multi-millionaires … riding on our coattails,” he added. “But aside from a few scattered folks, we had zero opposition. I’d venture to say there would be more opposition to a gas station or a school than we experienced with our facility proposal.”

Abramson said it was costly infrastructure issues and “stumbling blocks encountered with the Frederick planning department” — not resident opposition — that led to the withdrawal of the most recent proposal.

He said the “enormously long water and sewer lines” the company would have to run to the proposed facility along the S-curve of Route 52 near county roads 14 and 17 were cost-prohibitive, and added that provisions requiring the company to upgrade nearby road infrastructure — requirements he said were handed down by Frederick’s planning department — “far exceeded” the impacts that would have been made by development of the facility.

“We were willing to improve road infrastructure as we grew, but to put forward those improvements up front would have made the project not sustainable for us,” he said. “What was presented to us by the Frederick planning department prior did not sync up with what we experienced during the process itself.

“Frederick’s process was very cumbersome for us, and we realized after nine months that it was something we wouldn’t be able to work through,” Abramson added. “Obviously, we’re very disappointed in not being able to locate our facility in Frederick. But given our investment and the fact that we were potentially providing hundreds of new jobs, we felt we should locate in a community that aligns more with our goals and ambitions.”

Abramson said he and other stakeholders “continue to explore many outstanding sites in the area and are fully committed to getting this facility opened.” 


Safety concerns
about SAFE proposal

Frederick Certified Planner Chris Kennedy disputes Abramson’s allegations.

For starters, Kennedy had said in July that the first public meeting regarding the proposed facility drew about 50 residents — at least half of whom objected to the proposal. 

Ron Haake was one of those residents, and was one of six to speak out against the project at a Frederick Board of Trustees regular meeting in May. 

Though not a Frederick resident, the “pro-gun” Haake said in July that his Fort Lupton address on Weld County Road 19 is about a mile from the proposed facility, and said he objected to the gun range based on safety concerns steeped in precedence. Haake pointed to an incident in July 2000 when stray bullets from a police training exercise strayed into a Weld County neighborhood about a mile from the proposed SAFE site, striking two homes. 

“I don’t think (the proposal is) as good as (developers) say,” Haake said at the time.

“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,” Kennedy said in an email in July. “Those against the project typically live within a mile of so of the proposed site.”

In another July email, Frederick Planning Director Jennifer Simmons said safety was Frederick’s top priority and said concerns would be noted during the approval process. Kennedy again reiterated the town’s commitment to safety in a recent email.

“The Town of Frederick maintains policies and procedures that are designed to ensure the safety and well-being of its residents, and those living in unincorporated areas along its boundaries,” Kennedy said in an email Oct. 7.


Efficient process,
professional staff

Contrary to Abramson’s claims, Kennedy said Frederick “regularly receives praise from experienced development professionals for the efficiency of its process and the professionalism of its staff.

“The town prides itself on being one of the most business-friendly jurisdictions on the Front Range,” he added.

Kennedy deferred to a number of developers who he said would contest Abramson’s claims, including Peter Powers, director of strategic planning and business development for Longmont United Hospital. Powers said he worked extensively with the Frederick planning department in developing and building the Indian Peaks Medical Center — opened in December 2013 — and maintained that the experience was an enjoyable one.

“I found them to be probably the easiest municipality I’ve worked with, and I’ve worked with quite a few, both in Colorado and Indiana,” Powers said. “I found them to be extremely easy to work with. They were very appreciative and realized the benefits of our economic development. I’d give them my highest recommendation.”

“(Powers) and other developers have worked in Frederick and elsewhere long enough to know that our process is as fair and expeditious as any in the state,” Kennedy added.

As for issues Abramson may have had with Frederick’s land use codes or building requirements, Kennedy said those regulations are “based largely upon the model code recommended for use by the State of Colorado and is regularly reviewed for consistency with trends in the development community.”

He said land use code determines the framework for the process staff uses to review development proposals and applications, and said staff has long worked within all “legal parameters to streamline the way applications are reviewed in order to create a process that allows the Town to fulfill its obligations to its citizens, while also helping developers get through planning and into construction as quickly as possible.”

Kennedy said he couldn’t comment on Abramson’s discrepancies with infrastructure requirements, but instead said that “requests for information on and changes to multiple aspects of the proposal went unanswered, so the staff had to cease review of the application pending receipt of that information.”

Kennedy said they received notice Sept. 30 that Abramson was withdrawing his application, several weeks after Frederick’s request for that information.


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