Gun shops OK in Tyrone commercial district

It was a bit more than a housekeeping issue Thursday night when the Tyrone Town Council changed commercial zoning categories to comply with the recently adopted revamping of the zoning ordinance. Also on the agenda, and approved by a 3-2 vote, was the move to include gun shops as a conditional use in the new C-2 zoning district.

That inclusion met with significant public opposition, largely on the grounds that having a gun shop in the Southampton Shopping Center on Ga. Highway 74 would be too close to the nearby subdivision. In the wake of the decision Tyrone may have avoided potential litigation.

Up first at the meeting was the process of changing the designation of commercial districts that complied with the re-working of the town’s zoning ordinance that began more than three years ago and was adopted in October. The old PUD (Planned Unit Development) category was transitioned into the new C-2 (Commercial Highway) designation. That designation covers the commercial district along Hwy. 74 in the vicinity of Carriage Oaks Drive. The vote on the reclassification was unanimous and was met with no public opposition.

The same could not be said for another agenda item, one where gun shops were proposed as a conditional use in the C-2 zoning district. Guns shops had previously not been included in any zoning district category. It was that item that drew significant public comment, with 10 people speaking in favor of the proposal and 18 others opposed.

A large percentage of those opposed to the measure included residents of the nearby Southampton subdivision. Nearly all said they were gun advocates or gun owners and many noted that they had military or law enforcement experience. And nearly all said they supported the idea of having a local gun shop. The problem, they said, was with the intended location on a vacant piece of property directly south of Partners Pizza.

“The issue is the location not the business. The shopping center is a family-oriented place,” said Southampton resident Brenda Richards.

Those in favor of the proposal included Tyrone resident Michael Harbin who, echoing the sentiments of others supporting the measure, said the gun shop and indoor shooting range would provide local access to a range that would afford a venue for gun training, safety and education purposes. Like others, Harbin said he was pro-business and pro-Constitution.

The building proposed for just south Partners Pizza was said to be 218 feet from the property line and 400 feet from residences. AR Bunker owner Rusty Morris who is proposing to build the gun store said the decibel level will not increase over the current neighborhood traffic level or any air traffic overhead.

Prior to the vote Morris, a former law enforcement officer, said the building would be built from the ground-up to forestall some of the other issues those in opposition had surfaced. The building would be outfitted with a HEPA filter system to prohibit the escape of particulate matter such as lead and will comply with the ordinance requirements for gun shops such as installing a steel, roll-down gate at the entrance, security system and video cameras, concrete-poured walls, bollards in front of the building and operating hours from 10 a.m. until 8 p.m. Morris also noted that gun safety is of prime importance.

Pertaining to the location, Morris said there were only four properties in Tyrone where he could locate the gun shop. One of those was not big enough and two were in the industrial area near a school and a residential area.

The council voted 3-2 on the measure, with Ryan Housley and Ken Matthews opposed and Gloria Furr and Linda Howard in favor. Mayor Eric Dial broke the tie. Both Housley and Matthews said they had no opposition to gun shops as a conditional use though both had concerns about the location. Housley also said he had needed more information before making a decision.

Addressing the council after the vote, property owner Phil Seay reminded the group that he had previously owned the property that now includes the shopping center and subdivision.

“I was denied zoning in the past. The shopping center was turned down (by the town). And I had no option but to take it to court and I won,” Seay said.

Dial on Friday said Seay’s position represented a valid argument and an important component of the overall issue.

“It’s not an ideal location. And we don’t always have sovereign power over where everything is located. Sometimes it comes down to free enterprise and property rights,” Dial said.