Mar 282008
Shooting Range proximities

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Machine Gun Alley – Part 2

Union County TV audiences and newspaper readers have ring-side seats to what promises to be a long drawn out and likely expense affair. The print and video media has covered the story from the homeowners prospective as well as that of Dr. Land.

The completely new gun range has now been showcased on the front page of every paper, including the image of Dr. Land holding a seemingly benign rifle. Considering that all the hubbub is over his machine gun, you’d think he would have given his fans a front page photo with him posing with the Tommy Gun — you know in character.

Above, I have posted a photographic composite to illustrate a few facts that have been lost in all the gun-smoke. First and foremost the specific character, design and nature of the old range ‘backstop’ — before Dr. Land built his new one. For years, this served as only protection from stray bullets the neighbors had. It certainly doesn’t fill me with confidence and had the families in Stonegate realized the truth earlier, the controversy would have started years ago.

Another View from the Edge

Today, I read Ritchie Starnes ((The County Edge 3/28/2008)) front page editorial, titled ‘NRA could help defend the gun range’. According to Ritchie, Dr. Land’s case is a slam dunk. Ritchie writes, “Land acknowledges that a number of gun advocate organizations of rally behind his cause. Between a perception of grandfathered property rights and a successful NRA inspection, Land seems to be on solid ground.”

Ritchie continued, “Since he created a target range three years prior to the ’97 Sport Shooting Protection Act, his site enjoys the added insulation of perpetuity as long as he continues to use a range at that location, Land said his rights remain preserved.”

Well there you have it folks — game over!

Not so fast – Bucko

I suppose small matters of nonconforming land use, the lack of a county zoning permit and special use permit and the fact that prior to creation of his new gun range, his old range had not been inspected or licensed by any government entity and questions remain as to whether he even meets the specifications or qualifies for the Sport Shooting Protection Act. Here comes the judge!

I guess I asked the wrong question

Recently I spoke to Curtis Blackwood, NC House of Representatives member for western Union County and asked him, about the Shooting Range Protection Act. It was obvious to me that he’s been reading the papers because he immediately recited many the arguments in favor of Dr. Land. I stressed to Curtis that I wasn’t interested in the act as relates to Dr. Land, but I specifically interested in knowing if Mr. Blackwood felt the lack of any design specifications for what constitutes a sports shooting range was a concern to him.

Mr. Blackwood broke off our conversation and walked away, so I interpreted that to mean that Rep. Blackwood doesn’t have a concern as to the lack of specificity in the ordinance.

Readers should note, that Mr. Blackwood is running for re-election and will be on the ballot in May 6th Republican primary.

As I said before, “Ambiguity” should be the North Carolina State Word.

It seems inevitable that Wesley Chapel’s Village Council will once again be riding the tale of a legal dragon as it tries to protect the quality of life in this fast-growing town.

On Tuesday evening, April 1st, the Village Council of Wesley Chapel held a public hearing on the proposed Firearms ordinance. A little more than 30 people signed up to speak, two thirds of which indicated they supported the firearms ordinance.

With the exception of two speakers who called subdivision homeowners misplaced Yankees ((We’ve heard these remarks many a time from a very a small core of Village old-timers, who more often than not have been riled up and misinformed by former Village Council spouses, who lost their seats of power during the clean sweep of the Council in 2005, the last and most bitter one in 2007 — the WBT-TV tape gives a little flavor of it)) , most were very sincere in their expression of opinion. The Village Council did not vote on the ordinance, how refreshing a change for Wesley Chapel from just a few years ago ((In early 2005, the old guard council maniputlated the land use plan to rezone residential land into commercial so a sitting councilmembers property could be sold for $1.5 million and the 3rd shopping center at the corner of Waxhaw-Indian Trail and NC84)) , they decided to review the ordinance with eye towards refining the terms and making allowances for profession services like dog trainers.

The following are local TV news reports:

WBT-TV Report

WCNC-TV Report


WSOC-TV Report

This incident was brought up during the hearing.


 Posted by at 6:33 pm
Feb 252008
Robert Stack as Elliott Ness

Actor Robert Stack as G-Man Elliot Ness with his Tommy Gun

Typically when I hear the words ‘Tommy Gun’ I think of 1920’s era Chicago mobsters and G-Man Elliott Ness or James Cagney (You dirty rats), Edward G Robinson and of course Bogart. Tommy Gun is one of many nicknames ((“Chopper”, “Chicago Typewriter” and “Chicago Piano”)) for the Thompson Submachine Gun, produced in differing variants starting in 1921 and used by the military till the Vietnam war era. In many circles a coveted weapon to own and I’d imagine awesome to shoot.

In 1934, the Congress passed the National Firearms Act which sought to control the proliferation of automatic, short barreled and explosive weapons. To purchase a machine gun like the Thompson, prospective owners must submit to an extensive background check, reasonable need to own the weapon, ID photos and fingerprints. Subsequent laws in 1968 and 1986 have limited access to automatic weapons though foreign imports and manufacturing for sale to the civilian population. Vintage weapons like the Tommy Gun command great value to collectors.

Grave cause for concern

Yes, Wesley Chapel residents, the fusillade of automatic weapons fire you hear is coming from the unregulated ‘Sport Shooting’ range in Dr. Michael Land’s backyard, is from a Tommy Gun. The sound is incredible as magazine after magazine is expended in very short order. Mowing down targets at rate of more than 400 bullets per minute; that’s a lot of lead.

To see a Thompson Submachine gun like Dr. Land’s in action, watch following video:

The reader should note the enclosed shooting range is where this weapon is fired.

Neighbors complain, Village Government caught in the middle

I have been watching this issue closely, as it is a ‘classic’ example of suburban encroachment, where two differing land uses clash. Just a few years ago, when Wesley Chapel was just farm bordering farm, target shooting in your backyard caused nary a ripple of worry. But with the advent of subdivision growth, the inevitable has come. I suppose the staccato bark of machine gun fire has hastened the conflict of land uses and public safety. Suburbanites with their children playing in the backyard, will never be at ease. A dense subdivision and a shooting range cannot safely co-exist without careful planning and negotiation by both sides and even then it is a unsatisfying compromise.

Until recently, when Dr. Land unexpectedly and arbitrarily withdrew, Wesley Chapel’s Council, the area homeowners and Dr. Land seemed to be working toward an ‘accommodation’. Dr. Land had re-enforced his shooting range berm, reportedly building it higher and deeper. They jointly agreed upon NRA ((National Rifle Association)) inspection of his range, inspection fees to be paid by the town and results shared with all. Level heads were prevailing. All the participants wanted to keep the issue to as low a profile as possible and until this apparent impasse, they’d accomplished it.

The multiple stories in the newspapers, recent editorials and letters have raised the visibility, coarsened the language and put all sides on a collision course.

Waxhaw Exchange Story: Village eyes gun ordinances
Waxhaw Exchange Editorial: Wesley Chapel’s next showdown

In the end, the absurdity would have killed an agreement

“Reasonable people working together should be able to come to a solution”, a basic tenet of our democracy, right? What happens when even a compromise satisfies no one? In my view, Dr. Land’s machine gun use makes the likelihood of a resolution near to impossible. Rifle and pistol fire, while loud and disconcerting, does not elicit a reaction a machine gun brings.

Even if he agreed to only discharge his automatic weapon once or twice a week and at a given hour, neighbors would eventually demand a complete cessation of the range in it’s entirely — who can blame them. Fear, anger and frustration, not to mention the potential loss of property value will force a political solution, if not now then soon.

NC State Statute

Dr. Land has addressed the Wesley Chapel Council a number of times, in an effort to work out the controversy and to belay peoples fears. He has voluntarily spent thousands of dollars to upgrade his range and remove as much cause for concern as possible. Living in Weddington, he only comes to Wesley Chapel to shoot and ride ATVs on his multi-acre homestead. In his testimony before the Village Council, he stated that his range is protected by North Carolina statute, Sport Shooting Range Protection Act of 1997 which exempts a ‘Sports’ shooting range from noise ordinances.

Definition (2) of the act defines a Sport shooting range as “An area designed and operated for the use of rifles, shotguns, pistols, silhouettes, skeet, trap, black powder, or any other similar sport shooting” You’ll note that machine gun is not listed. ((Neither is anti-tank gun, or Gatling gun, mini-gun or naval gun listed as sports weapons.)) Logically, one can assume that had the General Assembly intended to include machine guns as a ‘Sporting Range’ weapon, it would have been listed at the forefront.

Had Dr. Land continued to pursue the NRA range review as the contract was originally written, I would have held out hope for an short-term amicable solution, but as it looks now, this issue may boil over to a battle of personal ‘rights’ — the right to shoot a machine gun in your backyard versus the right to be safe and enjoy quiet in your backyard.


The Enquirer Journal reported yesterday (Feb. 27), that Dr. Land had changed his mind regarding the NRA inspection of his home-based shooting range. Quoted in the EJ, Dr. Land said, “Once the report is known and given, (Wesley Chapel) will have complete disclosure of that report, without editing, straight from the NRA.”

The NRA report will address the design and safety of Dr. Land’s range according to NRA standards. While this action will not answer all concerns, it does at least keep the process moving.

Union County Weekly, February 29, 2008:

Stonegate property values in jeopardy?

From the story, quoting Allen Tate realtor Jim Sullivan,

The nonstop rat-a-tat was so loud and frightening, Sullivan said, the mother was “screaming for the children to run inside that house.” The mother hustled her frightened children into the car and sped off, Sullivan said never looking back…

… “it’s a disaster, the gunfire was so loud, I was stunned,” Sullivan said, clearly frustrated. He noted Sunday’s incident is by far not the first in the upscale neighborhood where homes sell for more than $400,000.

Accidents Happen

Gun range safety is a issue that should concern everyone. The following video link deals with a range in Pennsylvania and bullets hitting a home 3/4 of a mile away. Unlike Dr. Land’s backyard shooting range, this incident occured at a state licensed gun range.

Bullet Holes in Home in Buckingham Township

Sep 182007

Last night, in an action that was nothing short of ‘premeditated’, Union County Commissioners Baucom, Mills and Pressley blindsided the Wesley Chapel Weddington Athletic Association (WCWAA), when they voted to order county lawyers to begin legal actions against the association regarding flooding issues affecting adjoining properties.

Without benefit or courtesy of the customary public notice, Commissioner Pressley added the WCWAA issue to last nights agenda and after a brisk discussion with staff, Commissioner Mills made the motion to start legal ball rolling. Commission Openshaw objected to the ‘unfairness’ of taking action without giving prior notice and voted against Mr. Mills motion as did Roger Lane.

Media Coverage

Enquirer Journal: WCWAA, neighbors at odds over fill dirt, flooding near park

The Other Side

In a letter to WCWAA members early last month, Gary Hibler, President of the association stated :

    ..there are a very few families who own property in close proximity to our athletic fields who would like to shut us down. In short, they are accusing us of undertaking actions which increased the flooding of their properties even though most of their properties were already in whole or in part in the flood plain when they bought them. I state emphatically to you that these accusations are unfounded, untrue and that WCWAA has constantly followed the technical and procedural requirements of all governmental and regulatory agencies. We constructed our facilities and are operating them in a lawful manner. The engineering firm that we obtained to assist us in our construction has confirmed on several occasions that under no circumstances has WCWAA done anything which has aggravated the tenancy of the surrounding properties to flood.

In recent months, the commissioners have had a number of closed (secret) meetings with the County and staff attorneys to discuss the issue and during the discussion last night, Mr. Pressley alluded to a meeting with the WCWAA representatives, who he said were given 7 days to respond. Evidently when they didn’t, then Pressley and company were provoked to act.

What the contributing factors are or whose at fault, pardon the pun, is very murky at best. The county flood plain rises as the more development takes place. For example, how much has the new Shea Home development (Hollister) contributed to the flooding? The more water is displaced the higher the flood plain rises everywhere else. The real question is whose agenda is served by this premature action.

Frankly, I was surprised that Baucom, Mills and Pressley took time away the many early Christmas gifts they handed out to the county developers, with the ‘new’, previously secret sewer policy ((The sewer policy enacted last night was crafted only in closed session and in many peoples mind illegal, as it violated NC open meeting rules.)) that gives all the sewer and WATER homebuilders need to construct the more than 8100 homes in the pipeline, but that is subject of another post.


In the aftermath, despite the commissioner machismo, the political reality has forced a modicum of common sense into the discussion — thankfully.

When word leaked out that WCWAA advocates were planning to parade supporters wearing ‘red tee-shirts’ at the October 1st Commissioner Meeting, a hurried meeting between Commissioners Baucom and Mills, WCWAA president Gary Hibler, the engineers and county staff took place. The face to face meeting sorely lacking hereto now in the negotiations, finally took place.

Regardless of the facade presented that the County staff makes administrative decisions, the sad truth is Commissioners Baucom, Mills and Pressley micro-manage every action taken by staff and any solution to the WCWAA issue was going require the ruling troikas’ stamp of approval.

This closed door meeting was followed by an on-site meeting two days later, at the ball fields, between Commissioners Mills and Pressley, Public Works Director Christie Putman, WCWAA’s Gary Hibler, Dave Arone and consulting engineers, where they agreed that the park would remove dirt on the fringes of a couple of ball fields. Additionally, the County agreed to release the $110,000 in grant funds being held (hostage) till a resolution had been found.

Charlotte Observer: Floodplain dirt to be removed

 Posted by at 2:14 pm
Mar 292007

Since late summer 2005, Union Power and the homeowners of the Stonegate subdivision in Wesley Chapel have been battling over the placement of a power substation adjacent to their neighborhood.

What’s a permit among friends?

Union Power’s plans for a substation was first discovered in August 2005, when they applied for a ‘condition use’ permit from Wesley Chapel. No prior notice was given, no signs were posted, Union Power just showed up at the Planning Board meeting for the first stage of the process.

For years, the previous Wesley Chapel Council had been very cozy with the top management of Union Power, so cozy that Union Power permitted the Village Council to ‘borrow’ the company’s boardroom for meetings and planning retreats. So it was no surprise to see a Council-member and former Planning Board Chair huddled with the principals as the Planning Board reviewed and forwarded Union Power’s substation application with a positive recommendation — in less than an hour.

Belatedly on September 29, 2005, Union Power held what they must have thought would be ‘fire-storm’ quenching ‘Neighborhood’ meeting at Weddington United Methodist Church. Invitations were extended to area residents and subdivisions, including Stonegate and as distant as Berkshire, east of Waxhaw Indian Trail Road. Union Power had engineers, landscape experts, maps, aerial views, other sub-station comparisons and even a real-estate expert to assure residents that a power substation would not hurt home values. It should be noted that none of the Union Power representatives or ‘experts’ were allowed to discuss any other locations for the substation.

Two months after the Planning Board approval, a couple events took place that derailed the ‘fast-track’ Union Power was on for it’s permit. First, it took more than a month to hire a new attorney to serve during the permit process, made necessary by the recusal of the Village’s attorney, who had represented Union Power in the past. Second, the November elections brought four ‘newcomers’ into office with a resounding 2 to 1 vote plurality.

Of the previous council, only Jim Mullis remained (up in 2007), the rest of the board consisted of ‘appointed’ members, chosen to maintain the ‘old guards’ power and to approve the 3rd Village shopping center, sold for developement by a sitting councilman, but that’s another story.

The lame duck council called for a public hearing, in spite of the 800 letters of protest from Stonegate and other residents. The ‘old guard’ tried to push the substation forward, but the time remaining in office grew short as the opposition was grew stronger. Finally, they postponed the public hearing, arbitrarily specifying the exact date and time, in a churlish attempt to distrupt the new council’s inaugural meeting.

A Grueling Permit Process

The ‘Substation’ public hearings were well covered by the local media; the following articles provide an excellent review of the process.

The Enquirer Journal: Wesley Chapel council sets date for hearing on electrical substation

The Union Observer: Substation meeting draws sparks

The Union Observer: Wesley Chapel leaders reject Union Power’s substation

Wesley Chapel’s Village Council denied Union Power a conditional use permit for the site they chose by a 3-1 vote.

Incidentally, a fact not revealed until well into public hearing process, Village Council-member Jim Mullis is related to Danny Boatright, the property owner whose land was under conditional sale to Union Power.

Rubbing Salt in the Wound

Call this an ultimate slap in the face. An action so spiteful, so dispicable, the sheer audacity speaks volumes of just what is important to this corporate bully.

After losing the battle, fair and square I might add, with homeowners in Wesley Chapel, Union Power exploited a county donut hole ((parcel of land under county zoning jurisdiction)) and purchased the 4 acre parcel across the street from the original location. The parcel was barely large enough to meet their needs, they’d just put the minimum screening as the rural county zoning ordiniances required.

This time, Union Power announced the purchase with a few well placed signs strategically aimed at the Stonegate subdivision. They even held a little ground breaking ceremony — just more salt in Stonegate’s wound.

The Stonegate homeowners are a resilient group of hard working people, who are not going to just roll over for such tactics. They appealed the county zoning permit granted to Union Power, but lost at the Board of Adjustment and are now appealing though the courts.

WBTV News Broadcast
Wednesday March 28, 2007 – 6:00 News
Launch in external player

Victory at any cost

Union Power is a member owned utility, customers are shareholders of the corporation. In a monolithic power play, the co-op spent countless thousands of dollars on half-page newspaper advertisements, high priced lawyers and consultants — just to flatten the local opposition. No negotiation, no communication — just the exercise of raw might and money.

The WBTV report brought out an interesting perspective, one that has not been examined in depth. How much Union Power was willing to spend of co-op money to win. Like a scene from the movie ‘Godfather’, Union Power ‘made an offer nobody could refuse’ when the agreed to pay $90,000 per acre on the first location and over $125,000 per acre for the second location. As mentioned in the report, the adjacent property went for $42,000 per acre — Union Power paid more than triple the going rate.

How can they justify this waste of shareholder money.

It appears the answer is that ‘they don’t have to’.

To some winning at any cost is justification enough.

Reader Note: Union Power Co-operative is an ‘unregulated’ utility – exempted by the NC legislature.

 Posted by at 3:51 pm