La Plata County commissioners on Tuesday approved a shooting range and gun safety school, despite some concerns from nearby residents over noise and safety.
La Plata County resident Tim Gwynn received a Class II land-use permit for the Red Dawn Shooting Range and Wolverine School of Personal Safety, which is located on about 40 acres off County Road 307, near the Durango-La Plata County Airport.
"Our position is to make people able to defend themselves if they have to," Gwynn told commissioners.
About four years ago, Gwynn started operating the shooting range and instruction school without first acquiring a Class II permit with the county. He told commissioners he was under the impression county code did not call for his business to have a permit.
Within the last year or so, neighbors in the area alerted the county's code enforcement department of the business, adding complaints about noise from the firearms as well as the possibility of ricocheting bullets.
The complaints sparked the need for Gwynn to acquire the Class II permit. Over the past year, Gwynn hired third parties to conduct reviews for the permit, such as an environmental compliance analysis.
County staff, too, visited the property to assess sound levels, which do not exceed state standards that are used by the county. Gwynn has said bullets won't be picked up regularly, but promised to conduct regular soil sampling for lead.
With the county's absence of zoning, county planner Dan Murphy said the proposed business meets compatibility standards in place.
"That's the crux of the matter today," Murphy said. "Without zoning in place, those conflicting uses are something we deal with literally on a daily basis. There's nothing to guide us on that."
The shooting range will feature a one-way, 110-yard firing range and shoot house, with a few additional structures. The property is surrounded by large berms and natural topography, which reduces noise and the risk of ricochet, Gwynn said.
Hours of operation will be 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. during the week, and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends. If a special event is to be held outside those hours, Gwynn must notify nearby neighbors, according to conditions of the Class II permit.
No residents showed up Tuesday to speak against the project. A few neighbors previously submitted letters of opposition to the county with their concerns.
"The sound is quite intense at our home," Paula Sprenger, who lives next to Gwynn, said previously. "Who would have thought that when you buy a property in that area, they're going to put a shooting range in your backyard?"
Instead, a number of people spoke Tuesday in favor of the shooting range, lauding Gwynn's firearm history and explaining the need for another shooting range in the community.
"He's very serious, very professional, with a lot of experience," said John Malarsie, president of the Durango Gun Club. "And, we've got all the problems of the world here, so we need some of the assets of the world, and I think that's Tim's class."
Other gun ranges in the area include the Durango Gun Club, which has a location in Bodo Industrial Park as well as on Florida Road, as well as the Bayfield Lions Club range on CR 233. The Red Dawn shooting range is not a public range, Gwynn said.
Red Dawn offers concealed carry classes, introduction to long-range rifles, instinctive shooting, three-gun competition instruction, defensive shooting, and force-on-force training, among other classes.
Gwynn said people who take his classes and become certified and are part of an organization that "fights for gun rights" are welcome to practice on his property when classes are not in session.
Gwynn is a certified National Rifle Association instructor who entered the U.S. Army in 1966 and served 26 years, training indigenous people how to use firearms.
"I personally feel like this is an excellent project at an excellent location," Commissioner Brad Blake said.
Commissioners Blake, Gwen Lachelt and Julie Westendorff approved the Class II permit.