Shooting range moves closer to opening

Lawsuits and countersuits ongoing; neighbors angry; city defends process

Posted 11/2/18

Bullets aren't yet flying at a controversial shooting range in the works in south Littleton, but the lawsuits sure are. Triple J Armory is in the final stages of gaining approval for a shooting range …

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Shooting range moves closer to opening

Lawsuits and countersuits ongoing; neighbors angry; city defends process

Posted

Bullets aren't yet flying at a controversial shooting range in the works in south Littleton, but the lawsuits sure are.

Triple J Armory is in the final stages of gaining approval for a shooting range at 8152 SouthPark Lane. The family-owned company, which has operated a gun store at 311 E. County Line Road since 2012, recently moved their retail store to the new location near McLellan Reservoir.

Though city staff have approved Triple J's permit to complete construction of the shooting range, it had not been picked up as of Nov. 2.

Progress on the shooting range has been at a crawl since June, when the City of Littleton issued a stop-work order after discovering that Triple J's owners were building the indoor shooting range without an approved permit.

The project also drew the ire of several neighboring communities and schools, which called the area inappropriate for a shooting range, citing concerns over safety and noise.

The SouthPark Owners Association, or SPOA, which oversees business activity in the neighborhood, filed a lawsuit against Triple J in August, alleging that Triple J didn't go through a proper approval process, and seeking an injunction to halt work on the project until Triple J submitted architectural change proposals.

A judge rejected SPOA's request for an in injunction in September, saying Triple J reasonably believed it had SPOA's blessing to build, citing an October 2017 email from covenant control officer Channing Odell, which read in part that SPOA “has no objection to the proposed use of the building in question as a retail gun sale/shooting range.”

Triple J filed a countersuit against SPOA in September, saying Triple J proceeded with a lengthy and expensive construction project under the good-faith belief that it was approved.

Triple J is seeking unspecified damages, remuneration and attorneys' fees in the lawsuit. Representatives of SPOA declined to comment for this article, citing ongoing litigation. Triple J co-owner JD Murphree also declined to comment.

Fighting city hall

Meanwhile, a group of neighbors who have led the charge against the shooting range have hired a lawyer of their own.

Residents of Highline Crossing, a “cohousing” community just south of Triple J's new location, have emerged as the public face of opposition to the shooting range, with residents regularly appearing before city council, condemning the city's business license and permitting process for what they call inadequate public input on a business they fear will compromise their health and safety.

Highline Crossing has not yet filed suit against any entities regarding the shooting range yet, said Rebecca Askew, the president of Highline Crossing's homeowner's association, but said the neighborhood is “looking at their options.”

The city held a public meeting at the end of August at Mission Hills Church in which officials reiterated their position: Triple J's request for a business license and building permit in South Park was a use by right on private property, and the city had no recourse to deny the request. The city subsequently published a website detailing updates on the status of the project.

The Highline Crossing HOA was one of several signatories on a letter sent to city manager Mark Relph on Oct. 10, requesting an in-person meeting to discuss further concerns. Askew said she and the other signatories received no response to the request.

Relph said he was on vacation when his office received the letter requesting a meeting, but was also cautious about a meeting while sensitive litigation was underway between SPOA and Triple J.

“I have to be careful about the city's legal liability here,” Relph said. “So far the litigation doesn't involve the city, but if it does, there are taxpayer funds at risk.”

The letter's signatories received a response from Relph offering to consider a meeting on to-be-determined topics within hours of Relph's interview with the Independent on Nov. 1.

Catalyst for change

Relph said the Triple J situation is a catalyst for change: He is working to have building permits added to the city's Development Activity List website, an interactive page that displays information about development around the city. Relph also said he'd like to see the city's relationship with SPOA formalized, so the entities can work together more closely in the future.

City staff and elected officials will begin reviewing code surrounding gun ranges this winter, Relph said, including whether they should be subject to conditional use permits and additional safety procedures.

The city will be taking up code modifications in the near future, Relph said. A letter from city attorney Steve Kemp to council, published on the city website on Nov. 1, says that council will review the appropriateness of other zoning locales that allow firing ranges.

Relph pushed back against the assertion that the city should have allowed more public input before approving Triple J's move.

“I know of no city with a public appeal process for a building permit,” Relph said. “Once zoning is set, we are bound by private property rights set by the United States Constitution. Do I like a firing range in that area? I don't think it fits well. But it's the city's job to protect people's rights, and we don't have a choice.”

Relph added that the city required additional inspection and modification of Triple J's safety and noise control efforts before approving their permit, and will require a final live-fire test to determine compliance with city noise ordinances before making the final sign-off on the range.

Littleton Mayor Debbie Brinkman said the city will ensure that Triple J stays in compliance with city code, and questioned the need for a task force as requested by Highline Crossing residents.

“I don't know enough about why there needs to be a task force,” Brinkman said. “We already have code enforcement and police officers.”

Brinkman said she hopes the Triple J situation encourages residents to get involved in the city's efforts to revamp its comprehensive plan, which will guide future development efforts and code and zoning changes.

“Should we have been working on a new complan earlier?” Brinkman said. “Yes, but we're doing it now. I hope this process helps bring things to the surface that we need to fix.”

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