The Inver Grove Heights Planning Commission approved 5-3 an amendment to a city ordinance that will allow the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources to conduct a series of firearms safety courses inside city limits.
In a marathon meeting that eclipsed the three-hour mark Tuesday night, commissioners Whipperman, Maggi and Elsmore voted down a proposal to use a 250-acre plot of land in the city to host the classes.
The property, which spans from Barnes Ave. to South Robert St. and from Courthouse Blvd. to 96th St., belongs to longtime IGH resident Vance Grannis, Jr.
The approved proposal also includes the following conditions:
- Police Chief Larry Stanger or an appointed officer must approve the site;
- Chief Stanger or an appointed officer must conduct a noise test;
- The firearms safety program can be conducted six times per year;
- The City Council will be the deciding body on the issue of noise.
The issues of noise and notice turned out to be contentious ones throughout the meeting.
A neighbor living in the 8600 block of Applegate Way told the commission: "I can’t get on the bandwagon with everyone else. I’m not familiar with guns … . I want it to happen; I think gun safety is a wonderful thing. But I am a little nervous about the noise. Those of us that bought into the neighborhood knew there would be planes and there are; we knew we’d hear the West End Gun Club and we do. But this, we did not bargain for."
Commissioner Paul Hark agreed: "I’m not convinced that noise is not going to be an issue. I’m actually in favor of what Mr. Grannis is proposing but I counted and there are 59 or 60 homes within a half-mile radius of the site. I doubt any of these folks had any clue this was going to happen. And I doubt any of them are going to be interested in hearing this noise at 9 a.m. on a Saturday."
A neighbor living in the 8300 block of Courthouse Blvd. Court disagreed.
"I’m totally in favor of this. I have four boys, all of whom went through gun safety. My house is directly north of the proposed area," the resident told the commission. "A .22 caliber makes a little crack like a (firecracker) at that distance. (The DNR trainers) know exactly what they’re doing. I really don’t think there would be a problem with noise."
Commissioner Scales appeared to find the noise discussion tedious. "We’re talking about six times per year; 40-60 minutes per day; in the middle of an afternoon. I don’t think it’s going to be a big deal. My neighbor can tell you that my Harley Davidson makes far more noise. We’re spending a lot of time talking about noise."
Commissioner Elsmore hoped to table the discussion until the relevant homeowners located near the proposed site could be notified of its intended use.
"I think we table this, send out notices to the 59 homeowners in the half-mile radius to make sure they have notice of what we’re talking about. We need to find a way for them to have a voice in this. They have a right to know what is happening in their backyards."
Community development director Tom Link agreed with Elsmore: "I don’t think anyone is opposed to (firearms safety classes), it’s just a matter of control. We’re talking about a gun range; we’re talking about firearm discharges. Staff thinks notice (to surrounding residents) is appropriate."
In an effort to quell any safety concerns, DNR Lt. Alex Gutierrez stressed to the commission that the program would "in no way, shape or form" constitute an active gun range in the city.
DNR firearms safety instructor Heidi Leonard reiterated the extent of safety precautions in place by revealing that the Inver Grove Heights program may be used as a model for similar programs in Fort Snelling and William O’Brien state parks.
The commission gave no indication as to when the City Council would hold its public hearing on this issue.