COVINGTON, Ga. — Commissioners nearly began the process of allowing outdoor shooting ranges in most rural parts of the county but ultimately were unable to approve it after one apparent supporter was confused by what she was voting on.
The Newton Board of Commissioners deadlocked on a 2-2 vote that effectively denied a Lithia Springs-based gun club’s request to amend the county zoning ordinance to allow outdoor gun shooting facilities in areas zoned AR-Agricultural Residential.
District 3 Commissioner Alana Sanders rejected efforts to clarify the motion before abstaining on the vote — sending it to Chairman Marcello Banes who also abstained because of an apparent conflict of interest.
If approved, Development Services director Judy Johnson said it would have directed the county planning staff to write the amendment and ultimately return it to commissioners for any changes before its addition to the zoning ordinance.
AR zoning requires residential construction to be on at least one acre of land, according to the zoning ordinance. It is the most common zoning in the unincorporated part of the county, Johnson said.
Members of Bass Reeves Gun Club were seeking to build an outdoor gun shooting facility on a 90-acre site on Fincher Road near state highways 212 and 36 in south Newton County.
Club leaders Colin Mapp and attorney Nezida Davis told commissioners the organization wants to build in Newton County because many of its members live east of Atlanta and it had outgrown its current training facility.
Davis said the club was planning to host competitive matches at the facility that will attract shooting enthusiasts from outside the area and help the county economically.
She also noted an existing club, the South River Gun Club, is less than 1/8 of a mile from residences in southwestern Newton.
Johnson said the South River Gun Club was built in the 1950s and is protected by a 2002 state law protecting gun ranges in existence at the time.
It cannot expand under current zoning laws but may be allowed to do so if gun ranges were allowed as a right on any AR-zoned land, Johnson said.
She said she recommended commissioners approve an outdoor gun range as a conditional use in the AR zone in a manner similar to how other metro Atlanta counties treat such facilities.
The action would mandate that county commissioners approve a permit for a shooting range rather than it being automatically allowed in any AR zone, Johnson said.
District 1 Commissioner Stan Edwards said he was opposing Bass Reeves’ request because it was “about allowing outdoor shooting anywhere” and not because of the club itself.
He said the sound of automatic weapons coming from ranges likely would reach homeowners anywhere in the county because residential growth in recent years has led to homes being closer together.
“You can’t get remote enough in Newton County to place a shooting facility,” Edwards said. “The population has moved to the point where it would be detrimental to the people around it — the quality of life.”
He then made a motion to deny any new zoning amendments allowing gun shooting ranges in any area of the county zoned AR. His motion failed on a 2-3 vote.
Edwards said he apologized to his constituents — many of whom would see their quality of life adversely affected in his primarily rural district.
“It’s the fact we’re going to have automatic weapons’ fire … within half a mile of hundreds of homes,” he said.
District 3 Commissioner Alana Sanders responded that Edwards should have more respect for fellow commissioners as they worked in the best interests of their constituents.
She said she felt Edwards’ motion was too restrictive, and could foresee an applicant possibly requesting a site in another area of the county for a shooting range.
“That is strenuous to put that type of stipulation on any business that wants to come in this county and submit a petition to build a business in this county,” Sanders said.
District 4 Commissioner J.C. Henderson noted an approval would only begin a six-month process and not allow a shooting range to operate automatically.
However, Henderson's motion to add an outdoor shooting range as an allowed use failed for lack of support on a 2-2 vote after Sanders abstained.
She said she was confused about how Edwards’ amendment — which was not approved — would affect Henderson’s motion and rejected Chairman Marcello Banes’ efforts to clarify it.
"The language is not completely clear on the motion," she said.
Sanders then noted the tie vote meant the chairman needed to break it. Banes responded that he also abstained — killing the motion because it lacked a majority of votes.
He did not comment but the abstention apparently was related to attorney Stephanie Lindsey’s representation of the gun club.
Lindsey also is representing Banes in an unrelated case involving a pay dispute with the county government.