The judge’s temporary order does not include any specificity as to the reasons for his ruling, we will have to wait to be enlightened. Conversely, the Village of Wesley Chapel has yet to issue a statement regarding their future course, should they (and I think they should) choose to appeal the ruling.
It always amazes me how the law in some regards can be as precise as a laser beam, but in other cases be as blunt as the flat side of the shovel. Maybe we should just blame the lawyers.
If Dr. Land had only used his shooting range for the little 22 cal. target rifle he sports for the news photographers and TV cameras at every opportunity, I don’t think people would have objected as strenuously as they do when he whips out his Thompson submachine gun and blasts away. Furthermore you have to wonder about BATF licensing procedures, as Dr. Land’s testimony during the Board of Adjustment hearing gave cause to question his application for a Class III ‘machine gun’ license.
Be that as it may, as long as hills of Wesley Chapel are alive with the sound of shot and cannonade, then Dr. Land’s shooting range will remain the target of angst and anger.
Actor Robert Stack as G-Man Elliot Ness with his Tommy Gun
Typically when I hear the words ‘Tommy Gun’ I think of 1920′s era Chicago mobsters and G-Man Elliott Ness or James Cagney (You dirty rats), Edward G Robinson and of course Bogart. Tommy Gun is one of many nicknames(1) for the Thompson Submachine Gun, produced in differing variants starting in 1921 and used by the military till the Vietnam war era. In many circles a coveted weapon to own and I’d imagine awesome to shoot.
In 1934, the Congress passed the National Firearms Act which sought to control the proliferation of automatic, short barreled and explosive weapons. To purchase a machine gun like the Thompson, prospective owners must submit to an extensive background check, reasonable need to own the weapon, ID photos and fingerprints. Subsequent laws in 1968 and 1986 have limited access to automatic weapons though foreign imports and manufacturing for sale to the civilian population. Vintage weapons like the Tommy Gun command great value to collectors.
Grave cause for concern
Yes, Wesley Chapel residents, the fusillade of automatic weapons fire you hear is coming from the unregulated ‘Sport Shooting’ range in Dr. Michael Land’s backyard, is from a Tommy Gun. The sound is incredible as magazine after magazine is expended in very short order. Mowing down targets at rate of more than 400 bullets per minute; that’s a lot of lead.
To see a Thompson Submachine gun like Dr. Land’s in action, watch following video:
The reader should note the enclosed shooting range is where this weapon is fired.
Neighbors complain, Village Government caught in the middle
I have been watching this issue closely, as it is a ‘classic’ example of suburban encroachment, where two differing land uses clash. Just a few years ago, when Wesley Chapel was just farm bordering farm, target shooting in your backyard caused nary a ripple of worry. But with the advent of subdivision growth, the inevitable has come. I suppose the staccato bark of machine gun fire has hastened the conflict of land uses and public safety. Suburbanites with their children playing in the backyard, will never be at ease. A dense subdivision and a shooting range cannot safely co-exist without careful planning and negotiation by both sides and even then it is a unsatisfying compromise.
Until recently, when Dr. Land unexpectedly and arbitrarily withdrew, Wesley Chapel’s Council, the area homeowners and Dr. Land seemed to be working toward an ‘accommodation’. Dr. Land had re-enforced his shooting range berm, reportedly building it higher and deeper. They jointly agreed upon NRA(2) inspection of his range, inspection fees to be paid by the town and results shared with all. Level heads were prevailing. All the participants wanted to keep the issue to as low a profile as possible and until this apparent impasse, they’d accomplished it.
The multiple stories in the newspapers, recent editorials and letters have raised the visibility, coarsened the language and put all sides on a collision course.
In the end, the absurdity would have killed an agreement
“Reasonable people working together should be able to come to a solution”, a basic tenet of our democracy, right? What happens when even a compromise satisfies no one? In my view, Dr. Land’s machine gun use makes the likelihood of a resolution near to impossible. Rifle and pistol fire, while loud and disconcerting, does not elicit a reaction a machine gun brings.
Even if he agreed to only discharge his automatic weapon once or twice a week and at a given hour, neighbors would eventually demand a complete cessation of the range in it’s entirely — who can blame them. Fear, anger and frustration, not to mention the potential loss of property value will force a political solution, if not now then soon.
NC State Statute
Dr. Land has addressed the Wesley Chapel Council a number of times, in an effort to work out the controversy and to belay peoples fears. He has voluntarily spent thousands of dollars to upgrade his range and remove as much cause for concern as possible. Living in Weddington, he only comes to Wesley Chapel to shoot and ride ATVs on his multi-acre homestead. In his testimony before the Village Council, he stated that his range is protected by North Carolina statute, Sport Shooting Range Protection Act of 1997 which exempts a ‘Sports’ shooting range from noise ordinances.
Definition (2) of the act defines a Sport shooting range as “An area designed and operated for the use of rifles, shotguns, pistols, silhouettes, skeet, trap, black powder, or any other similar sport shooting” You’ll note that machine gun is not listed.(3) Logically, one can assume that had the General Assembly intended to include machine guns as a ‘Sporting Range’ weapon, it would have been listed at the forefront.
Had Dr. Land continued to pursue the NRA range review as the contract was originally written, I would have held out hope for an short-term amicable solution, but as it looks now, this issue may boil over to a battle of personal ‘rights’ — the right to shoot a machine gun in your backyard versus the right to be safe and enjoy quiet in your backyard.
The Enquirer Journal reported yesterday (Feb. 27), that Dr. Land had changed his mind regarding the NRA inspection of his home-based shooting range. Quoted in the EJ, Dr. Land said, â€œOnce the report is known and given, (Wesley Chapel) will have complete disclosure of that report, without editing, straight from the NRA.â€
The NRA report will address the design and safety of Dr. Land’s range according to NRA standards. While this action will not answer all concerns, it does at least keep the process moving.
From the story, quoting Allen Tate realtor Jim Sullivan,
The nonstop rat-a-tat was so loud and frightening, Sullivan said, the mother was “screaming for the children to run inside that house.” The mother hustled her frightened children into the car and sped off, Sullivan said never looking back…
… “it’s a disaster, the gunfire was so loud, I was stunned,” Sullivan said, clearly frustrated. He noted Sunday’s incident is by far not the first in the upscale neighborhood where homes sell for more than $400,000.
Gun range safety is a issue that should concern everyone. The following video link deals with a range in Pennsylvania and bullets hitting a home 3/4 of a mile away. Unlike Dr. Land’s backyard shooting range, this incident occured at a state licensed gun range.
“Chopper”, “Chicago Typewriter” and “Chicago Piano” [↩]
have read most of the published newspaper reports and Union County’s â€˜Tarzan-esqueâ€™ press release announcing Judge Kimberly Taylorâ€™s ETJ decision.
Basically, the judge ruled that Union County had the right to rescind Wesley Chapel’s ETJ, that the previous board of commissioners had granted just two months before. The state statute which dictates a two-year transition was conveniently ignored.
Additionally, the judge commented that Wesley Chapel had not provided sufficient notification. In essence, she echoed the arguments presented by both the County’s attorney and Mecklenburg’s State Senator, Daniel Clodfelter, the developer’s attorney.
I’m not going to rehash the case, it’s fair to say that I totally disagree with the decision and I hope the Village of Wesley Chapel pursues every legal avenue available to them.
ETJ was not a land grab but a way of protecting the community from the â€œNew Regimeâ€ of commissioners, who will rezone border properties in favor of their developer contributors â€“ one was admitted as much in the Observer.
Ask the towns of Wingate and Marshville why they requested and received ETJ from the state. Historically, Union Countyâ€™s developer biased zoning and lot density subsidies have long been an issue and the cause of distrust.
THIS CASE SETS THE COUNTY FREE
One ramification of this decision I hadn’t thought about was brought to my attention over the weekend. It could be a ‘silver lining’, let me share it with you.
The judge stated that Union County has the right to rescind ETJ, to quote the County’s press release â€œconcluding, as a matter of law, that the Union County Board of Commissioners did have the right to withdraw consent to the ETJ where the village had taken no action to implement ETJ before the Board withdrew its consent.â€
So the judge says that Union County has the power to rescind consent or the granting of privilege that it had previously awarded — if it hasn’t been utilized.
Note the similar parallels: Wesley Chapel spent funds to hold public hearings, send mailings of notification, legal reviews of the documents and time by employees performing needed tasks. Like developers, Wesley Chapel became vested in the process. They received a letter from the County giving them permission for ETJ and again like a developer, Wesley Chapel then spent more money based on that letter.
Does this scenario sound familiar? Haven’t we heard from the developer himself, Commissioner Pressley, quoting verse after verse of the now tired and worn-out refrain “the County gave them a letter”? â€œThey made â€˜businessâ€™ decisions based on the letter — we are obligated or they will sueâ€.
Isn’t our sewer allocation policy and hereto non-existent water policy based on letters of availability, issued many years before restrictions became necessary? Interestingly enough, all these letters contained the caveat â€œThis Is Not a Permit”. Also conveniently ignored by Mr. Pressley and friends.
In the wake of Judge Taylor’s decision, one can postulate that Union County is not obligated to honor sewer and water availability letters given to those homebuilders and developers who have not yet acted upon the permits. Shouldn’t their case winning argument be applied here as well?
Union County Commissioners now have a legal precedent. Think how this one action could solve the county’s debt and tax-rate problems. The countless millions of taxpayer dollars would be saved.
Its simple really, like Wesley Chapelâ€™s ETJ, the County giveth, the county can taketh away
or better yet, according to the judge, ‘Use it or Lose it’!
The war of words over Wesley Chapel’s ETJ is between DFM (Developer Friendly Majority) Commissioners and a small community trying to protect themselves from rampant unmanaged development along it’s borders.
This is not unique to Wesley Chapel, Marvin and Mineral Springs are resisting the same pressures. Isn’t it interesting, that these towns are the first and currently the only towns thus far, with fore-thought to adopt the Adequate Public Facilities Ordinance.
‘Smart Growth’ Goldmine
DFM Boards of the past are responsible for the bastardization of county zoning with abominations like ‘Smart Growth’, a contradiction in terms, if there ever was one. In a nutshell, it was term for a zoning ordinance that allowed large and small track developers to build almost 30% more home density than the zoning district allowed — just for adding an one amenity like sidewalks or trees or street lights or trees.
Look at western Union County, the number and size of sub-developments, school overcrowding and traffic gridlock — the legacy of a Board of County Commissioners comprised of developers or beholding to them. There was no master plan to manage growth — it was and is a free-for-all.
Protecting the VIllage
By way of ETJ, Wesley Chapel’s Town Council has sought protection for the community from arbitrary and capricious zoning decisions, historically evident and very likely, given the election results.
The town was formed in 1998, out of fear of being involuntarily annexed by Indian Trail, led by then mayor, later commissioner and current NC-DOT czar, Larry Helms, who had plans to be Mineral Springs’ northern neighbor, by swallowing up every square inch of ground between the two towns.
Out sheer necessity and lack of experience at the time, Wesley Chapel was incorporated with numerous ‘donut holes’ and jetties of Union County zoning jurisdiction in the heart of the village.
As a result, two competing zoning visions and authority existed on land completely surrounded by or adjacent on 3 sides by Wesley Chapel. The recent Union Power and Piedmont Natural Gas zoning controversies are prime examples that drive home the point.(1)
Planning for the Future
One of the much needed and common sense goals of this Village Council is the design and implementation of a ‘Comprehensive Master Plan’ to govern the future development of Wesley Chapel. But, what’s the point of going through the time and expense of such an endeavor, if all it takes is a DFM board of commissioners to throw monkey wrench into the works.
Wesley Chapel sought the one avenue available to it, Extra-Territorial Jurisdiction (ETJ), a law which allows the state or counties, to grant municipalities the authority to apply it’s zoning regulations to unincorporated land in the proximity of a town or city. Traditionally, county zoning has been rural based, much less restrictive, while cities are urban, more specific to use — two very distinct types of zoning.
Unlike Marshville and Wingate, who were granted ETJ powers one mile of their borders by General Assembly, solely on the influence of their Democrat House representative, Wesley Chapel strictly followed the course laid out by state statute. They were granted ETJ over most of the donut-holes and border parcels on their petition. Last week, in the final phase of ETJ adoption, the Village Council voted 4-0 to approve zoning and text changes to the village’s land use ordinances.
On December 4, 2006, at the inaugural meeting of the new Board of County Commissioners, one of the 4 last minute items added to the agenda was to rescind Wesley Chapel’s ETJ authority granted in the previous term. That is within their right to do so, but a surprise addition to an agenda, not allowing public comment or that of town officials was the kind of arrogance prevalent in every major decision hence.
State statute provides a mechanism for the county to rescind ETJ authority (it) granted to a town, allowing up to two years time before municipality must surrender zoning authority.
The DFM decided to create new interpretation of state statute after consulting, not county attorneys as you’d expect — after all taxpayers are paying for legal advice, but mystery lawyers whose identities are still unknown. Let me say this again. Commissioners Pressley, Baucom and Mills are acting on the legal advice of lawyers who are not being paid by the county, nor accountable to the county.
The resulting action of this highly dubious advice to was to declare on a 3-2 vote, that Wesley Chapels ETJ authority is withdrawn IMMEDIATELY! Forget the 2 years of transition as stipulated by state statue.
Only Legal Recourse
Wesley Chapel acted in the only means available – to take the issue to court, to force the county to adhere to the law.
The proposals offered by Chairman Pressley as a ‘negotiation’ were empty gestures, had no basis in law and meant to only recast the DFM a genteel light.
â€œKeep in mind whoâ€™s making the first steps now, whoâ€™s trying to get into litigation… whoâ€™s closed the door and whoâ€™s left the door open.â€ was Mr. Pressley’s quote in the EJ.
Rather than languish in uncertainty, Wesley Chapel has chosen to act now. This is the right and honorable course, not only for Village residents, but mostly for the owners of ETJ parcels.
February 15th, 2007
Village of Wesley Chapel
On Thursday, February 15th, Wesley Chapel filed a complaint in Superior Court against Union County and the Board of County Commissioners. This action seeks a declaratory judgment from the court that Wesley Chapel is entitled to extraterritorial jurisdiction. In addition, Wesley Chapel is asking for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to prevent Union County from exercising its Planning and Regulation of Development authority within the ETJ area while the litigation is ongoing. The Village Council of Wesley Chapel believes this action is necessary to resolve confusion among property owners in the Wesley Chapel ETJ area as to the correct governing authority for planning and regulation of development. Further details regarding this action will be released soon.
Union Power applied for a substation permit in Wesley Chapel, was denied after a hearing of almost 30 hours. Union Power seized on the opportunity of a county ‘donut-hole’ and purchased a parcel across the street, where under county zoning – a substation is a use by right, no special use hearing required. PNG, rather than face stricter Village zoning, bought a piece of adjoining property to the power substation as well. [↩]
With a vote of 3-1 the Village Council found the Union Power Substation plan was not in harmony with the Land Use Plan nor did it fully comply with the Village zoning ordinances.
After almost 30 hours of seemingly endless testimony, the council sifted though evidence and rendered the best decision.
This was hard work by citizens trying to do the best for the Village. Well Done.
Everyone with children in Wesley Chapel Elementary past, present and future should be literally be breathing a little easier this morning. A front page Enquirer Journal article by John Tompkins detailed the testing and minor alterations to the air recycling system to check and ensure that cancer causing contaminates were not present in the school. Four tragic deaths to cancer and tumors over a short period led to the concern expressed by many a parent motivated the school administration to conduct extensive surveys of the school buildings air quality.
Considering that by next year almost 1200 children will be crammed into a building designed for 580, good clean air will be paramount.