Neighbors of a gun range south of Grovetown are hoping the county will shutter the site, but if the property owner has his way, its use will continue to expand.
Since June 24, property owner Paul Blankenship has been under a “cease and desist” order from the county to discontinue the use of the 5.5-acre tract as a shooting range. According to the order, the range does not comply with permitted uses for land zoned R-A, or residential-agricultural. The county has requested that Blankenship apply for rezoning to S-1, or special use zoning in order to continue to use the property for events and meetings of the Newmantown Gun Club, Blankenship’s nonprofit organization.
Bobbie Bauserman, who lives across the street from the range in the 1400 block of Newmantown Road, said despite the order, he continues to hear gunfire from the range almost every day.
“It wouldn’t be a big issue if it was once in a while,” Bauserman said. “But this is all the time. Sometimes four or five hours of shooting.”
Bauserman has been complaining about the gun range since it opened in 2010. He says some neighbors have moved away because of the gunfire, which includes everything from pistols to machine guns. The range is only about 350 feet from Newmantown Road.
Bauserman said he’s not opposed to guns; he has plenty of his own. He says its about property usage. He thinks Blankenship is operating what is essentially a commercial shooting range in a residential neighborhood.
“I don’t think it’s funny,” he said. “You wouldn’t think it was funny if you had to put up with this every day.”
The conflict between Blankenship and neighbors began in 2010, soon after he purchased the land from Jerry and William Braun, both disabled veterans who say Blankenship misled them when he pursuaded them to sell the property.
“He said he was going to build a house there for his brother, who had just come back from Afghanistan,” Jerry Braun said. “If I had known he was going to build a gun range, I would have never sold it to him.”
She said her husband, William suffers from post traumatic stress related to his time as a Marine in Vietnam, and the racket of gunfire keeps him on edge.
“Who would want a gun range in a residential neighborhood?” she said.
Blankenship referred all questions about the range to his attorney, James Overstreet Jr., who declined to comment.
In letters to county officials, however, Overstreet defends his clients’ right to use the property as he sees fit. Overstreet claims the range has been “contructed in accordance with the NRA Range Source Book” and is surrounded by earthen berms that protect neighbors from stray bullets.
Overstreet’s letter from Aug. 9, states that Blankenship intends to use the site for dues paying members of Newmantown Gun Club and for public and private shooting events associated with the club.
He said Blankenship has long range plans to add bathrooms and buildings to the site, including a lodge to house out-of-town members and guests.
County officials say its fine for Blankenship to fire weapons on his property, but the problem arises when the use extends beyond that to what is essentially commercial use.
Richard Harmon, Development Services Division director, said the land, which Blankenship owns under a corporation, Elaine LLC, isn’t being used as residential or agricultural use, so it needs to be rezoned.
Harmon also said Blankenship’s improvements to the property were all done without obtaining the proper permits or oversight.
“He did move earth out there and he got no permits to do that,” Harmon said.
Overstreet, however, counters that county officials were aware of the work being done and approved it.
According to his July 3 letter, Overstreet says on several occasions, “Linda Glasscock, (then the Code Compliance Supervisor) repeatedly advised” that the shooting range conformed to zoning regulations.
Overstreet said Blankenship has made $30,000 of improvements to the land based on that guidance, and it is unfair for the county to change its position on how the land can be used.
Harmon confirmed that Glasscock, now the county Animal Services manager, did consult with Blankenship and consented to the work that was being done in 2010. Glasscock did not return a call seeking comment on the matter.
Bauserman, however, says, he supects the range has been used for more than a gun club, but also for customers of Blankenship’s firearms business, which is located just across the county line on Gordon Highway,
Blankenship’s property at 3319 Gordon Highway is the listed location for both Blankenship Custom Firearms and for Loadup Ammunition, both businesses registered in Blankenship’s name, according to Augusta-Richmond County records.
Federal firearms licenses for those businesses are also registered to corporations controled by Blankenship, according to state and federal records.
Blankenship however, denied the gun store was his, when asked by a reporter. A man who identied himself as David McCoy said he and a partner has purchased the business from Blankenship “some time ago,” but declined to be more specific.
McCoy said no paperwork had been filed to transfer the business license from Blankenship’s name.
Bauserman said he is glad the county is paying attention to the situation, but he and his neighbors aren’t ready to relax.
The Brauns say they are willing to do whatever it takes to shut the range down, including opposing zoning changes.
The county is set to take up the matter again at a Nov. 7 Planning Commission meeting.
“When he applies for his S-1, we are going to fight him tooth and nail to stop it,” Jerry Braun said.