Facing lawsuit, Tyrone says yes again to shopping center shooting range
Some Tyrone residents don't want a gun range near residential areas, and they filed a lawsuit to stop it. Tyrone began its defense of the zoning with a Planning Commission decision April 26.
The meeting of the Tyrone Planning Commission was essentially a replay of the recent Town Council meeting where zoning changes that included guns shops as a conditional use of C-2 (Highway Commercial) zoning was approved.
Commissioners Thursday night after a re-consideration of the zoning district change from PUD (Planned Unit Development) to C-2 and the inclusion of guns shops as a conditional use in C-2 voted unanimously to recommend the changes to the Town Council for the May 3 meeting.
The meeting drew approximately 150 people, with a large majority of those being opposed to the gun shop and indoor gun range proposed for the south side of the Publix shopping center on the west side of Ga. Highway 74 and approximately 218 feet east of the Southampton subdivision and 400 feet from the nearest residence.
Approximately a half-dozen people spoke in favor of the rezoning during the public comments portion of the meeting, but they were far overshadowed by the nearly two dozen speaking in opposition.
As at the previous meeting on the subject, the overwhelming majority of those opposed said they were gun advocates or gun owners. And nearly all said they supported the idea of having a local gun shop. The problem, they said, was with the intended location on a vacant piece of property on the south side of the shopping center.
Some in their comments said having the gun shop would hurt the business at the shopping center while others said that, if it opened, they would no longer shop in the town.
Police Chief/Town Manger Brandon Perkins made a brief presentation noting that of 19 indoor gun ranges within metro Atlanta all but one, regardless of zoning, are within 1,000 feet of residential properties.
Several residents took issue with Perkins’ data, with one resident referring to an indoor range in Marietta located in a neighborhood consisting of “cracker box” houses likely valued at $50,000.
The re-consideration of the rezoning and conditional use items came after a number of Southampton subdivision residents filed suit against the town on April 2 stating that, “approving the allowance of a gun shop as a conditional use in a C-2 (Commercial Highway) zoning district and also the allowance of a shooting range as an accessory use to a gun shop on the subject property and seek(s) a declaratory judgment to declare these rezoning decisions to be a manifest abuse of rezoning power and therefore illegal and void.”
The four counts specified in the suit include violations of the state zoning procedures law, violations of the town’s zoning ordinance, a conflict of interest and potential violation of ethical requirements on the part of a member of the Tyrone Planning Commission and a manifest abuse of zoning power.
The plaintiffs are also appealing the rezoning decision to amend the town’s zoning map that changed the PUD district to a C-2 and seeks to have the rezoning decision void because it was conducted in violation of state law.
The PUD district has not existed as an official zoning district since 1995. The town recently completed an update of the zoning ordinance, part of which involved a decrease in the number of zoning classifications that exist throughout the town, according to town records. The rezoning from PUD to C-2 was intended to serve as a next step in the process by transitioning all properties zoned PUD to C-2, town records said.
The properties situated on the east and west sides of Hwy. 74 were largely developed under the old PUD classification.
Indoor gun ranges were previously allowed in the C-3 zoning district, the town’s most intense commercial zoning category. The amendment of the zoning ordinance in October 2011 eliminated the C-3 district. The new C-2 district contains the uses previously allowed in C-3.
Plaintiffs in the suit include Southampton subdivision residents Leila Richardson, Wayne Mason, Gwendolyn Keyes Fleming, Larry Bennet, Donna Ballard, Natalie Milner, Michelle Williams and Thomas Redd and Southampton Plaza shopping center business owner LaGuana Albarracin.
The town apparently addressed the suit by re-advertising and posting signage for the Planning Commission and Town Council public hearings. Pertaining to another aspect of the suit, Planning Commissioner Chris Wigginton, whose company did work for proposed gun shop project, did not attend the commission meeting. Town attorney Dennis Davenport said the town’s position is that a gun shop is a retail business. Davenport at the meeting also noted that he would be responding to the citizens’ law suit on May 4.
A number of residents at each of the public hearings on the issue said that gun shops and gun ranges would be better suited in areas zoned for industrial purposes.
Though not stated by anyone at the meeting, there is another facet of the issue that is of note. It pertains to possible litigation by property owner Phil Seay and industrial-zoned property.
If the council next week were to decide to remove gun shops from the C-2 zoning category it would potentially open the door for Seay to litigate the town’s decision. That is what occurred when Seay wanted to put the Publix shopping center along Hwy. 74. The town turned him down and he successfully sued the city. Seay noted that fact at a recent council meeting.
As for industrial-zoned property as a site for gun shops, such properties do exist inside the town limits. One of those properties is situated between the Southampton subdivision and Hwy. 74 between Carriage Oaks Drive and Peggy Lane.
The Town Council will hold a public hearing on the rezoning and conditional use of gun shops in the C-2 zoning district on May 3.