New law limits shooting ranges in Littleton

Ordinance mandates minimum distances, public hearings in future

Posted 5/24/19

Triple J Armory is set to open its new shooting range in south Littleton, but a new law could make it tougher for them to expand — and tougher for anyone to open a shooting range elsewhere in the …

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New law limits shooting ranges in Littleton

Ordinance mandates minimum distances, public hearings in future

Posted

Triple J Armory is set to open its new shooting range in south Littleton, but a new law could make it tougher for them to expand — and tougher for anyone to open a shooting range elsewhere in the city.

City council voted unanimously to approve an ordinance changing shooting ranges to a conditional use under city code at its May 21 meeting, meaning any applicant hoping to open one within city limits would have to meet a set of criteria and go through public hearings to seek a business license.

The move comes after months of controversy over Triple J Armory’s shooting range at 8152 Southpark Lane, which has been the target of several lawsuits, drawn the ire of neighbors who said it’s too close to homes and schools and spurred a cease-and-desist order from the city after officials found owners had begun building the range without a permit.

City officials, however, said they were powerless to deny the range a business license, because it conformed with the site’s zoning, and denying it would have infringed on private property rights.

“We don’t want a shooting range,” Littleton Mayor Debbie Brinkman said at the May 21 meeting. “All respect to Triple J, but we don’t want a shooting range next to schools or residential or places where we would all agree it’s not appropriate ... we’d like to go in there and make it not happen, but there’s an incredible amount of risk with that.”

Room to grow?

The new law means that Triple J’s shooting range becomes a “legal non-conforming use,” meaning it will stay grandfathered into its location, though it will trigger a public hearing and other scrutiny if it attempts to expand the number of shooting lanes.

Triple J co-owner J.D. Murphree said the law seemed targeted to prevent the company from achieving longstanding expansion plans.

“The city has understood and recognized our desire to expand,” Murprhee told council. “As a result, we’ve relied on what the city has told us about (our goals to build) 20 shooting lanes.”

The building has 11 shooting lanes, said city code enforcement supervisor Rebecca Thompson. The range is scheduled to open June 1.

Brinkman said limiting Triple J’s ultimate size was the best result she could hope to achieve for residents of Highline Crossing, a cohousing community across the street from Triple J, whose residents have maintained a drumbeat of opposition to the business.

“That’s important to me,” Brinkman said. “I have a longstanding relationship with Highline. They supported me years ago on different issues ... I’m not trying to put Triple J out of business. They have a business model, and this would not meet with what their expansion plans are. My interests are what’s important to (Highline Crossing) and what we can do.”

Laying down the law

The law lays out criteria for possible future indoor and outdoor shooting ranges, including a minimum 500-foot distance between indoor shooting ranges and residences, schools, churches and parks, leaving just a few parcels, mostly along Santa Fe Drive and in the South Park business park.

Outdoor ranges would be limited to parcels that are 1,500 feet from residences, and must have a mile of open land downrange, essentially leaving only a handful of parcels surrounding McLellan Reservoir, near County Line Road, as possibilities.

Simply meeting the distance requirement would not be enough to guarantee approval for a shooting range, said Mike Sutherland, the city’s deputy planning director. Applicants would still face criteria around security and safety, and would have to go before public hearings.

“This is not to say these areas are suitable, but they’re eligible,” Sutherland said.

The 500-foot distance is consistently used in Littleton’s code for other businesses, including liquor and marijuana license holders, said Jennifer Henninger, the city’s community development director.

Though Brinkman and numerous commenters at the hearing said they would like to see the minimum distance increased, doing so could run afoul of gun rights, said interim city attorney Brandon Dittman.

The Supreme Court has ruled that the Second Amendment applies to local governments, Dittman said, and zoning regulations that have the effect of completely banning shooting ranges are unconstitutional.

Pat Dunahay, the head of the South Park Owners Association, which governs the area that includes Triple J, Highline Crossing, and the potential outdoor shooting range sites adjacent to McLellan Reservoir, said his board would never approve an outdoor range.

“I don’t care how you did the map,” Dunahay told council, saying that he and South Park were never consulted in the drafting of the ordinance. “We’d be sued by every single building owner in South Park, and we’d push it back to (city council) and say you caused this because you allowed this.”

Good neighbors

The new ordinance may not be perfect, said Councilmember Karina Elrod, but at least it gives the city a leg to stand on.

“We always hear that clarity and predictability (are) important for businesses and citizens, and right now we’re not providing that,” Elrod said.

Triple J, meanwhile, was recently granted a certificate of occupancy for its shooting range, clearing the final hurdle to opening. A post on the company’s Facebook page said the grand opening of the range is scheduled for June 1.

The certificate was granted after Triple J passed a noise ordinance test, said Thompson, the code enforcement supervisor.

On May 10, Thompson stood outside the range while a staff member observed from inside the range, while shooters fired a variety of guns, she said. No noise beyond ambient sound was detectable outside the range, she said.

“I personally thought I might feel or hear something, and there was nothing,” Thompson said.

Thompson said the city will be closely monitoring the range for compliance with city code, and neighbors with complaints should call her office or police.

“My impression after meeting with the owners is that they want to be good neighbors,” Thompson said.

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