Indoor Clovis gun range irritates neighbors (audio)
An indoor gun range in Clovis is the center of a fight over property rights that has city officials searching for a fair solution.
Homeowners say daily gunfire from The Firing Line has shattered the peace in their neighborhood near Shields and Clovis avenues. The constant sound of “pop, pop, pop” has devalued homes, caused residents to lose sleep and kept scared children from going outside, they said.
“It’s nerve-wracking,” said Bruce Meredith, whose home is within 25 yards of the shooting range. “It blows my mind that the city has allowed it to operate.”
Long-forgotten (until now) zoning laws in an unusual part of Clovis helped produce this rub of houses and guns.
Now nearby homeowners want the city to shut down The Firing Line — a drastic step the Clovis Planning Commission could recommend when it considers the complaints at a special hearing Monday.
That’s not fair, said Firing Line owner Jacob Belemjian, who has support from nearby business owners. He said he’s been operating under the rules since opening last March: “It’s like they’re trying to write me a speeding ticket when I’m not speeding.”
On the border
The light industrial park that’s home to The Firing Line feels like Fresno — because for all intents it is. The area north of Shields and just east of Clovis Avenue has some two dozen buildings, mostly home to automotive paint shops and construction-related businesses. The enormous Duncan Ceramics campus anchors the area, which is also home to the Fresno County Sheriff’s Area 4 headquarters.
Most of the businesses are in the city of Fresno.
Then there’s the seven buildings on the north side of Dayton Avenue, on the northern edge of the industrial area. Those businesses, including Paterson Paint and The Firing Line, are in Clovis. And they’re tucked right against a tidy tract of typical Clovis homes. A brick wall serves as the tract’s back fence; at The Firing Line, there’s a small strip planter, a row of parking spaces and a driveway between the wall and the shooting range.
Belemjian said it’s not his fault his neighbors purchased their homes near an industrial area. “They rolled the dice and bought it anyway,” he said.
Clovis city staff say the industrial area has been around since at least the 1970s. The zoning permits manufacturing, processing and fabrication. “Shooting ranges are permissible,” a staff report says, but ranges are subject to a conditional use permit.
Meredith, who has lived in his home for 26 years, said diesel trucks and machinery don’t compare to someone shooting in the direction of the homes. “I prefer not to be a target,” he said.
He blamed the City Council for putting the neighborhood in its current predicament.
In 1983, a City Council dealing with Clovis’ growing suburban appeal approved a General Plan amendment that allowed a housing tract next to the industrial area. The homes were built between 1985 and 1987, the staff report says.
Because the industrial area was approved long before the residential tract, the staff report says, “all residents were on notice that their neighborhood adjoined an industrial area.”
But the report also says: “Prior to the approval of The Firing Line, there were few complaints from neighbors about the industrial uses. Those concerns were resolved without the need for any formal action.”
Times have changed
That’s not the case now.
The neighbors have banded together and put out about 50 yellow yard signs that say: “Restore our Peace! Stop the Gun Noise!!”
“We’re not against guns,” said homeowner Robert Weyant, who has lived in the neighborhood since the mid-1980s. “But the noise is ridiculous. The NRA wouldn’t even endorse it.” (Actually, the National Rifle Association does not take positions on individual gun ranges, a city staff report says. That same report does note that the NRA issues guidelines for ranges and that The Firing Line hasn’t been following all those guidelines.)
There’s another reason to shut it down, Weyant said: Neighbors fear police will become desensitized to the sound of gunfire in the area and not be as responsive to potential crime problems in the neighborhood.
Belemjian said only a few neighbors are “stoking the fire” that has led to Monday’s public hearing, when the Planning Commission will review The Firing Line’s conditional use permit. Among many things, the permit set a sound limit roughly equivalent to existing industrial noises in the area — in later reports described as about the noise level of firing a .357 Magnum — and hours of operation.
No problem on the hours: The Firing Line is open 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.
And Belemjian said he has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars making a safe range with respectable noise levels: “We have done everything the city has told us to do and even more than that.”
What he can’t change is that he started with a metal building that originally housed a cabinet shop.
In contrast, The Range Pistol Club in northwest Fresno is in a building made of concrete blocks filled with insulation and sand to deaden the noise, authorities said. Fresno city spokesman Michael Lukens also noted that the nearest single-family home is more than 200 yards away.
The Range hasn’t had a noise complaint since it opened in 1994, Lukens said.
Not the first fight
The Clovis City Council in November 2011 approved Belemjian’s operating permit on a 4-1 vote over the objections of neighbors who signed a petition. Council Member Lynn Ashbeck cast the lone no vote.
Mayor Jose Flores and other council members say they can’t discuss the issue now because they will sit as judges on the validity of the neighbors’ complaint once the Planning Commission makes a recommendation. “We want to give both sides their due process,” Council Member Harry Armstrong said.
The Planning Commission’s options range from allowing business as usual to declaring The Firing Line a public nuisance and recommending that it be shut down.
City staff members who visited the range for new tests have suggested that a compromise can be reached. Among the options presented by staff: limiting peak noise at the residential property line to 55 decibels — about the range of a .22 caliber pistol.
Belemjian said he’s not interested in a compromise. “I’m going to fight it,” he said. “The city is trying to do an end-run around their own rules.”
The business has about 1,000 members who pay monthly or yearly dues to shoot, Belemjian said.
Customer Jim Pepin of Sanger likened the shooting range to a bar or tavern — not everyone likes to drink, but no one has the right to stop them from indulging. “We don’t mess with you, so don’t mess with us,” he said.
Elaine Graham, whose family’s Graham Concrete Construction is near The Firing Line, said there’s a bigger issue at stake: The industrial park came first, so homeowners “shouldn’t be crying foul.”
Elaine’s husband, Gary Graham, said the complaints don’t make sense. Industrial zoning means truck traffic and machinery, he said: “There’s a whole lot of stuff that could go in there that’s a lot noisier than a shooting range.”
If you go
What: Clovis Planning Commission special hearing
When: Monday, 6 p.m.
Where: City Council Chambers, 1033 Fifth Street
By Pablo Lopez