Police cancel firing range plans after hearing community concerns

Wednesday, August 1, 2007 | 2:46 p.m. CDT; updated 7:13 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 11, 2008

COLUMBIA — Being a good neighbor is more than sharing a property line or borrowing sugar; it requires listening.

That’s why the Columbia Police Department took neighbors’ wishes into account in the planning stages of a million-dollar training facility, Capt. Mike Martin said.

The result: The Police Department has altered its plans for the facility’s firing range, Martin said.

“We determined there was no support for the firing range, so we have taken it off the table,” he said. “Although the range facility isn’t going to happen, it is going to remain a possibility that the building, the facility, will.”

The proposed 21-acre site off Boatman HillRoad, south of McGee Road, was to house a 8,000- to 9,000-square-foot facility with an outdoor firing range, a classroom, an armory, men’s and women’s locker rooms, offices, a reception area and extra parking for official vehicles.

The project’s funding comes from a quarter-cent sales tax voters set aside for capital improvements in November 2005.

In a letter from the department, neighbors near the Boatman Hill Road location were notified that plans for the firing range had been halted.

Joseph Yungwirth said he was delighted.

“It would have been really very intrusive,” said Yungwirth, who lives on Boatman Hill Road. “The noise would have been horrific. The community just couldn’t stand it, and those notified were only part of the community.”

Resident Jenifer Westgate said she was shocked when she read the letter.

“They were testing the neighbors. They didn’t know how we would react,” she said. “It’s great; a burden all the sudden has lifted.”

Both neighbors said they were thankful that the department considered their concerns, and had decided against the firing range.

“They knew it was an uphill battle,” Yungwirth said. “They wanted to know what our thoughts were.”

Police Chief Randy Boehm said that’s why the meeting was so important.

“We wanted to present our information and see the response of the community, to hear their concerns,” Boehm said. “We evaluated it and decided that we would not be able to adequately address them.”

The community will always have concerns, Boehm said, but the department wants to be good neighbors, wherever it ends up.

“I know there was skepticism at the beginning. They thought this was a done deal, but that was clearly not the case,” he said.

The department is re-evaluating its plans for the facility and also looking for a location that might welcome the firing range, Boehm said.

“The ideal would be that the training facility and the firing range would be on the same property, but this may or may not be possible,” he said. “It may have to be two locations.”

Hitting roadblocks is disappointing, Boehm said, but the department wants the facility to be accepted.

“We already feel behind, but we don’t want to just move quickly,” he said. “We want to move carefully and find a location that will be suitable.”

For now, officers will continue to complete their required firearms training at Green Valley Rifle and Pistol Club, at a cost of $6,500 a year. But the private gun club doesn’t provide as much control and flexibility for the department as its own firing range would, Martin said.

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