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Our concerns with the proposed gun club and range in south Rochester

Our concerns with the proposed gun club and range in south Rochester

Editor's note: The Med City Beat received two opinion submissions opposing the proposed Heartland Gun Club and Range.

Oped No. 1 

Some believe that the community should not be concerned if the proposed Heartland Gun Club and Range development on 5105 Commercial Drive SW is an indoor facility. I live near the proposed development and attended the neighborhood informational meeting at the Willow Creek Country Club on April 6 hosted by the project developers and architects. I am now more concerned about the project than before; here is why:

Inconsistent information from developers 

At the informational meeting with the Heartland Gun Club and Range concerned neighbors asked the developers and architects to clarify the intentions for the business and the building.

One area resident asked developer Pat Egan to define the scope and purpose of the "outdoor event area." Mr. Egan said it would be used for celebrations but could not specify as how large it would be, the exact location, or whether alcohol would be permitted. When pressed as to whether alcohol would be on the premises he said that he had not planned to pursue a liquor license but did not know whether or not catering companies might bring alcohol on site. He had “not planned" for that yet. "Not planning" to sell or permit alcohol on the premises is not equivalent to not permitting alcohol on site. 

Noise pollution for the houses 700 feet from the property is a concern. In the meeting Mr. Egan described the building with 12-inch thick concrete walls. That same evening he described it to reporters as a building with 8 inch thick concrete walls. A noise study was referenced by developers that stated the expected decibel level emitted from the building was minimal. When asked about the caliber of firearm used in the study it was shared that it was based off a small caliber assault rifle AR-15. Expected decibel levels from the building using the full range of ammunition and firearms that will be allowed at the facility were not shared.

When asked about the types of firearms and ammunition that will be allowed, Mr. Egan said that he would not allow automatic weapons or rifles up to .50 caliber. He hoped to reassure us by sharing that for one year he has owned a gun range in Chanhassen.  He said that the name is Stock and Barrel, but he “could not remember” the address or how close that facility is to a residential area.

The Stock and Barrel facility website prominently features assault and automatic weapons in its displays and videos. It states that it can accommodate any caliber up to .50 caliber rifle and that members may use a lounge and wet bar. The conflicting practices with the Stock and Barrel facility and Rochester development or contradicting statements made in the meeting have not been acknowledged or addressed. The ambiguity undermines the trust between the community and the developers. 

Accountability for building quality and environmental safety

A quick Google search shows that indoor gun ranges across the country struggle with lead contamination, fires with toxic fumes, and noise complaints.

Just like you can’t take back a bullet once it has been fired, the effect of lead contamination can be lasting and significant to children, water supply, and wildlife. The proposed development is within 1,000 feet or less from a water source, a community park where children play, a residential neighborhood, and a robust wildlife that includes a breeding pair of Bald Eagles. When asked about the risk of lead contamination it was suggested that we monitor it after the building is in place. As a parent to young children, waiting for the gun range to be tested and exceed recommended lead levels is too late. It puts the responsibility on victims rather than polluters.  Proper rules surrounding lead safety to protect the environment and people who live nearby should be in place prior to the building approvals. 

Lacking city policies and permitting requirements

In Rochester there is more permit paperwork and regulations for hotdog vendors downtown or keeping a chicken in your backyard than it takes to open a gun range, even when that range may allow alcohol to be served on the premises. In the city of Rochester no special permit review is required and city ordinances are only applicable to outdoor ranges. The risks associated with firearms outweigh those associated with hotdogs or chickens. City regulations should reflect that.

The overarching issue surrounding the development is trust. Because there are little local regulations for gun ranges currently, there is little recourse for residents once it is built. What assurances do we have that Heartland Gun Club and Range will be built with gun safety, noise mitigation and environmental protection in mind? Current city policies do not require it and the meeting with Heartland Gun Club and Range developers left me with more questions than answers.

Alison Larson lives in Rochester.

Op-ed No. 2

I am writing to oppose the development of the Heartland Gun Club and Range. Simply put, the range does not belong; not just where it is planned to be built, but in our community. The development of this business not only goes against the image Rochester is trying to portray as a Destination Medical Center, but it is also an example of the folly of unrestrained growth. Rochester is falling into the textbook example of the insidious force known as “Urban Sprawl”.

“Urban Sprawl” is uncoordinated growth: the expansion of community without concern for its consequences, in short, unplanned, incremental urban growth which is often regarded unsustainable. Among economists there is a general consensus that urban sprawl is characterized by unplanned and uneven pattern of growth, driven by multitude of processes and leading to inefficient resource utilization. In other words, unrestrained growth is damaging to a community in terms of quality of life, lacks long-term vision, and often results in a community slowly dying a slow death.

The lack of proper ordinances to address less desirable aspects of growth are apparent in the Heartland Gun Club and Range project. While Rochester may spend months debating food carts and chickens, there has been little thought of what this one project means to the community. It is the start of a slow and perilous path, and sets an extremely dangerous precedent for future development. There are warning signs unwittingly given by our elected officials which should cause any Rochester resident to pause. The end result is that your Rochester neighborhood will be the next place targeted.

One of the major environmental problems associated with sprawl is habitat loss and subsequent reduction in biodiversity. As plant cover is cleared and covered with concrete and asphalt, rainfall is less effectively absorbed into the groundwater aquifers. This threatens both the quality and quantity of water supplies. Sprawl increases water pollution as rain water picks up gasoline, motor oil, heavy metals (lead from a gun range, for example), and other pollutants in runoff from parking lots and roads.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has said there is no safe level of lead exposure for children. Children age six and younger are particularly susceptible to lead poisoning, and life-long damage can include IQ loss, behavioral problems, and memory and attention disorders. Having the contamination from the gun range be tracked out of the building on clothing and shoes, and washed into the nearby stream/pond is unacceptable. The damage to the water table, the fish, and the Bald Eagles will be irreversible and only apparent after the fact. Will the Rochester community be footing the cleanup bill and other problems left behind by out-of-town, and novice owners?

I believe you should have the right to shoot guns, to hunt and enjoy these things, but it's completely irresponsible to place a gun range right near where children play, Bald Eagles raise their young, and where families want to simply enjoy a quiet and safe evening outdoors. It’s not consistent with the identity of the town as a friendly, "Destination Medical Center".

Wes Brandenburger lives in Rochester.

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