By Rande Davis
On July 24, the Frederick County Zoning Board held a public hearing on a request for a special exception to allow a proposed firearms training center in Frederick County off of Thurston Road. The public response, estimated to be more than five hundred people, primarily protesters of the proposal, caused the applicant’s attorneys to request a delay in the hearing. The request was granted due to the inadequate space available and that most would not be able to speak that evening. The new date for the hearing is August 28.
The 262-acre property in question, owned by Elm Tree Properties, LLC, is near the Sugarloaf/Stronghold property, and is publically known as the old Warfield Farm.
Old Line Arsenal, LLC, which has entered into a lease with Elm Tree, LLC, has requested permission to build two outdoor firing ranges (one for long guns, the other for pistols) and a two-story educational center for classrooms which would have a pistol range in the basement. The facility would be open from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday through Saturday for use by the general public as well as law enforcement and military personnel. Under the proposal, usage of the three ranges would not exceed one hundred participants and would include a 144-car parking lot.
According to the application, the fifteen-plus acre site will be built so that the building is 250 feet from the property line and 400 feet from the nearest neighbor. The outdoor firing ranges are to be 1,300 feet from the property line and 1,600 feet from the nearest neighbor. The applicant maintains that public safety will be maintained by industry standards for the construction of such sites, and that sound from the ranges will be muffled by additional berms, trees, and other foliage.
The unprecedented number of protestors included individuals as well as members of the Sugarloaf Alliance and the Montgomery County Alliance which supports the former’s lead in the initiative to prevent the special exception.
Protestors of the request for special exception point to noise, environmental, and safety concerns. The primary issue centers on loss of the tranquility of the Ag Reserve and the negative impact on the tens of thousands of others who use the area for hiking, golfing, weddings, and receptions, etc. There is also special concern for the impact on the many equestrian farms in the area and the noise impact on horses.
One protestor, Kelsey Roos, whose home is near the proposed range, said, “Hardest hit will be the equestrian community, as those who ride and board in the area will take their horses elsewhere. No one wants to ride a horse that may bolt when startled by weapons fire.”
Montgomery County Alliance stated on its website, “Regardless of how one feels about shooting ranges, we can agree that this over-sized facility does not fit the surrounding neighborhood of farms and popular hiking destinations. ‘Resource Conservation,’ this is not.”
The lead organization against the facility, Sugarloaf Alliance also declared, “The loud noise from this large, commercial facility will disturb the peaceful enjoyment of homes, farms, and Sugarloaf Mountain, as well as threaten local businesses such as Sugarloaf/Stronghold, Sugarloaf Mountain Winery, Comus Inn, and farms with horse riding, training, and boarding. There are unknown environmental issues from having a firearms range run through flood plains and Little Bennett Creek, a waterway that feeds the Monocacy River and ultimately the Potomac River.”
The Frederick County Zoning Board is searching for a venue large enough to support such a large turnout for the next public hearing.