The Goochland Planning Commission voted unanimously to defer action on the Orapax Plantation sporting clays conditional use permit at its October 18 meeting. According to Tom Coleman, the county’s principal planner, the Orapax requested deferral until November 15 to permit completion of a sound test on the proposed shooting range site.
Coleman also said that Orapax plans to retain a sound consultant to perform the study. It was unclear if commissioners or citizens will be notified of the time of the study, which presumably includes actual weapon discharge. When the commissioners deferred the matter at their October meeting, it seemed as though they preferred to attend a test shoot to get a feel for the loudness and vibration of the shooting. The change to a professional study seems to indicate compilation of objective data that could be used to justify the Orapax contention that the proposed sporting clays range will not generate objectionable levels of sound.
The commission also voted to hold a public hearing on the Orapax application at its November meeting, after the sound test. This will give both sides the opportunity to comment on the sound study and provide the commission with enough input to make a recommendation to the supervisors.
Ironically, the people who attended the planning commission meeting, which started at 6:30 p.m. to accommodate expected extensive public comment about shooting range, had no compunctions about noisily leaving the meeting when the commission moved on to another agenda item. They then proceeded to hold an extended discussion in the hallway outside the meeting room that was loud enough to be distracting to those trying to follow the rest of the meeting.
There is plenty of space on the front steps of the administration building, or in the hallway leading to the rear entrance for public hearing after parties.
Rudeness is not an acceptable part of any public hearing. Although time limits for speakers are made quite clear at the outset, many folks believe that they have a right to natter on as long as they like. Often, these extended comments wander from the point and needlessly extend the hearing.
County boards and commissions do a good job of providing opportunities for public input. Citizens should do their part by being succinct and respectful of others in attendance at meetings.
Although the Orapax CUP recommendation was deferred, the planning commission packet, which is available on the county website www.co.goochland.va.us, is worth taking a look at.
According to a brief history of attempts by Orapax to legally establish a sporting clays course, in 2007, county zoning law was amended for the purpose of discouraging sporting clays. This happened under the guise of changing the accessory use clause of A-1 zoning to prevent construction of illegal garages or sheds.
The proposed ordinance was proposed, on an emergency basis, following the conclusion of the annual budget hearing. It seemed as though the “emergency” was the recent filing of an application by Orapax to establish a sporting clays course as an accessory use to a hunting preserve, as a putting green is to a golf course.
That attempt by Orapax to secure approval of sporting clays failed after what seemed like a very irregular hearing before the Board of Zoning Appeals ended in a tie vote, upholding the county’s denial of the use.
Regardless of the appropriateness of a shooting range at Orapax, and compelling arguments can be made for and against that, the matter must be handled fairly. If the county can get away with manipulating the zoning process to obtain a certain outcome for Orapax, it can do it to any landowner, which is not acceptable.
This matter will test the mettle of the new board. No matter what the outcome of the board vote is, significant constituencies will be furious. Their discontent may well lead to legal action and hard feelings will fester, perhaps until the next local election. This board has said it is committed to doing the right thing for Goochland regardless of the impact of their decisions on future elections. Stay tuned.