Farming community rattled by prospect of indoor shooting range
Janie Higgins was crushed to learn a week before Christmas that the rolling pastures and fields her family has tilled and grazed for generations will soon be marred by the arrival of a large indoor shooting range and gun store setting up shop in their midst.
“This just feels like an intrusion of our peace and quiet,” said Higgins, who lives in the Francis Farm community outside Waynesville. “I can’t imagine that being built right on top of us.”
The families of Francis Farm cherish their farming heritage and have protected their pocket of rural countryside. A gun store with bars on the windows, a 14-lane indoor shooting range and the steady traffic it would bring would ruin the legacy they’ve tried to maintain.
“I am sick. It makes me sick to even think about it,” said Betty Gilliland, an elderly woman who grew up in the Francis Farm area. “This is a nice quiet farming community. It is devastating.”
But Jule Morrow, the man behind the indoor shooting range plan, said it is desperately needed. Morrow, too, has a family lineage in the Francis Farm community that goes back generations, but he believes an indoor shooting range is much needed in Haywood County.
“A lot of people in Haywood don’t have anywhere they can go shoot,” Morrow said. The closest indoor shooting ranges are in Buncombe and Transylvania counties.
Morrow pointed to the surge in gun sales and concealed carry permits across the nation as a testament to the demand for an indoor shooting range where people can fire their weapons, be it for recreation or practice.
“If there is any hotter business in America right now, I don’t know what it is,” Morrow said. “It is really a service to the community — give people a clean, safe, controlled environment to shoot in.”
But the residents who live near the planned shooting range and gun store can’t understand how anything that seems so incompatible to their lifestyle is even allowed.
“I don’t like anything like that close to me,” said Nancy Hyatt, 83. “We are displeased.”
Several residents of the community plan to attend the county commissioner meeting at 9 a.m. Monday, Jan. 4, and ask the county to use whatever power it has to intervene.
“I hope and pray we can stop it. I don’t know if we can, but we have to try,” Gilliland said.
But Morrow said there aren’t any regulations or permit requirements that would prevent him from building an indoor shooting range and gun store.
Indeed, the county has no land-use restrictions that regulate what can be built where.
“How can this happen?” asked Jim Francis, 71. “This is a farming community. I can look out my front window now and it is just rolling hills with farmland.
“If it didn’t bother the community I wouldn’t have no problem with it whatsoever. I don’t like to tell people what they can or cannot do with their property. But it is going to totally change the community.”
Morrow said the indoor shooting range will be designed to keep noise in. While there are no county regulations to follow, federal rules under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration govern noise, safety and lead contamination for indoor shooting ranges.
But neighbors don’t see how that much shooting, even if inside, won’t pierce their peace and quiet.
It’s of particular concern to Higgins, who is facing a grueling bout of chemotherapy, her fourth round since being diagnosed with cancer five years ago.
“I have been battling for my life every single day since then,” Higgins said. “Needless to say I don’t have many nerves left.”
It’s also crushing to her 88-year-old father next door.
“This property is his life,” she said.
The 15-acre tract where Morrow plans to build the shooting range was purchased by his mother a year ago. It’s about a half mile from Morrow’s own family home place, a stately white farm house circa 1900 that sits on a 68-acre tract.
Higgins said she wants to know why Morrow doesn’t build the shooting range and gun store on his own family land, beside his own home place, instead of coming up the road and building it right beside her house.
“We have been here all of our life, and I can’t believe they wouldn’t have any more consideration for their neighbors than this,” Higgins said.
“His so-called gun store won’t be very far from my driveway,” said Higgins’ husband, Danny. “We live in very peaceful neighborhood. It will create a lot of unwanted traffic.”
Some neighbors feel vulnerable out in the country with a gun store in their midst and are leery about the type of people who will be coming and going on their backroads.
“With all the things going on in America right now, it just jolted my spirit to hear about this,” Higgins said.
Gilliland said she called Morrow’s mother, who owns the tract, and tried to change her mind.
“I asked her ‘why would you want to do that to a community like this?’” Gilliland said. “I told Betty that something like this needs to be in the woods some place.”
Wade Francis, another long-time resident of the community, fears people will congregate in the parking lot, and what’s to stop them from shooting outside?
A needed addition
Morrow and his wife, Stephanie, said a lot of people are excited about the prospect of an indoor shooting range coming to Haywood County. At a recent gun show at the Haywood County Fairgrounds, women in particular were thrilled to hear an indoor shooting range was on the horizon.
“They were doing the happy dance. We had people literally squeal and cheer,” Stephanie said.
Morrow also anticipates a lot of demand from the second-home population, including seasonal residents from Florida, which has more concealed carry permits than any other state, he said.
There are no indoor shooting ranges in the counties west of Haywood, although one has been proposed in Franklin recently.
Morrow’s plans call for a 14-lane shooting range, with a firing distance of 30 yards, enclosed in a 60-foot-by-130-foot building.
“That is the biggest one in Western North Carolina. This will be the most modern, up-to-date range in Western North Carolina,” Morrow said.
In addition to serving the public, Morrow said the indoor range will also give law enforcement officers a place to practice and get certified, and give the 4-H youth Shooting Sports Club a place to practice without traveling to Asheville.
The land where Morrow plans to put the shooting range was purchased for $450,000. Morrow’s mother bought the land after selling off a 24-acre tract of her family’s farmstead that borders the old county landfill off Francis Farm Road.
Contamination from the old county landfill had seeped onto her land, forcing the county to buy it out. The county paid her $850,000 for the contaminated land. To avoid paying income taxes on the proceeds from the land sale to the county, she put it toward the purchase of more property. The 15-acre tract up the road just happened to be for sale.
Morrow said the plans to build a shooting range didn’t come along until later. Morrow, a builder by trade, suffered a debilitating back injury in the spring. When birthing a calf, the OB chain he was pulling on broke. He had back surgery, but realized his body wouldn’t hold up to manual labor much longer.
“I had to come up with something else to do,” Morrow said. And that’s when he began developing the idea for an indoor shooting range.
The shooting range controversy marks the third time in less than a year that residents have brought grievances to the county commissioners over the lack of zoning and land-use regulations. One woman was moved to tears at a county commissioner meeting recounting how she’s been driven crazy by the barking from a dog kennel next door to her. Two months ago, commissioners were bombarded by dozens of residents protesting a trash and recycling sorting plant proposed in their community.
But aside from strip clubs, billboards and helicopter sight-seeing operations, the county doesn’t have zoning rules that regulate what can crop up in a community.
Shooting ranges — indoor and out — have been a source of controversy throughout the region over the past couple years.
A proposed indoor shooting range in Franklin prompted a recent rewrite of town zoning rules that spell out special-use permit requirements.
Meanwhile, neighbors of a private club shooting range in the Glenville area of Jackson County have appealed to county commissioners there for help dealing with noise.