La Plata County Planning Commissioners have approved a request for a new shooting range and personal gun safety instruction school, which will be located a few miles southwest of Durango-La Plata County Airport.
Ignacio resident Tim Gwynn applied for a Class 2 land-use permit for Red Dawn Shooting Range and Wolverine School of Personal Safety to operate on about 4 acres of his 40-acre private property at 292 Shooter Lane.
Commissioners voted 3-1 to approve on Thursday, with Commissioner Frank Lockwood casting the lone no vote. Commissioner Chris Scott abstained from the vote.
According to Gwynn, the shooting range and personal safety school will teach a variety of concealed-carry weapons classes, one-way firing range training and close-quarter shoot-house trainings.
The facility will feature a 110-yard one-way firing range and a shoot house, with a possible 500-square-foot structure to be built. The remainder of the area is surrounded by 15-foot berms, Gwynn said.
Other gun ranges in the area include the Durango Gun Club, which has locations in Bodo Park and at 580 Florida Road. The Red Dawn shooting range is not a public shooting range, Gwynn said.
Gwynn, who said he holds a National Rifle Association instructor certification, said he entered the U.S. Army in 1966 and served 26 years, mainly training indigenous people in the use of firearms.
After retiring from the Army, Gwynn moved to the Durango area.
“I just like doing what I do,” he told planning commissioners, “and passing it onto other people.”
However, Gwynn had started operating his shooting range and instruction school about four years ago without a required Class 2 permit, La Plata County planner Dan Murphy said.
Calls to Murphy to seek clarification if there are any penalties associated for operating without proper permits were not immediately returned Friday afternoon.
Paula Sprenger, whose property is adjacent to Gwynn’s, said neighbors were caught off guard when they started to hear the sounds of the training facility without being previously notified.
“It started with some sort of major training with many, many cars and people running around in black hoods, shouting instructions in a foreign language,” Sprenger said. “Which was quite startling not knowing any range was there.”
County planning staff and neighbors raised concerns at the meeting about the loud noises associated with gunfire, as well as possible ricochets and the litter of discarded bullets and casings.
“The sound is quite intense at our home,” Sprenger said. “Who would have thought that when you buy a property in that area they’re going to put a shooting range in your backyard?”
Murphy said a sound-measurement study found the sound associated with the facility was in compliance with county codes.
Gwynn said bullets will not be picked up on a regular basis, but a plan has been put in place to take samples of soils in the facility to see if levels cross a threshold for any contamination.
And Gwynn assured the commission that the facility is well-protected, limiting the risk of bullet ricochet. Airport director Tony Vicari wrote in a submitted comment that the airport has no concerns about the location of the gun range.
“Anything’s possible, but it’s called a big sky, little bullet,” Gwynn said. “We teach no one to hold it in the air.”
Tiffany Rhodes, Gwynn’s agent with Southwest Land Services, said meetings were held with neighbors to hear their concerns and, as a result, the hours of operation of the gun range are limited to 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekends.
Yet that has done little to ease neighbors’ concerns.
“We want to be neighborly and not stop his business,” Sprenger said. “But it feels like we have been a little bit ... abused in this situation.”
Murphy said that because the project meets county codes, planning staff is bound to recommend approval.
Commissioner Lockwood, who voted no, said county staff had more discretion to deny the project, given the adverse impacts it will have on nearby neighbors.
“These people moved out there for peace and quiet, and I thought it was way, way too negative on the neighbors,” Lockwood told The Durango Herald on Friday. “It’s not a ‘not in my backyard argument.’ They’re making huge amounts of noise every day.
“I would not want it to happen to me.”