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BY DAN McFARLAND
Orange County residents have proclaimed loud and clear that they do not want a tactical training facility in their quiet, rural backyard.
And after listening to them for about three hours Thursday, the Planning Commission without discussion voted unanimously to recommend that the Board of Supervisors deny a proposed amendment to the county zoning ordinance that would permit such facilities in certain areas.
A total of 83 speakers signed up to be heard at the commission's public hearing on the proposed amendment. The change would have created a use definition for tactical training facilities, and allowed them by special-use permit in areas zoned for agricultural or general industrial use.
All of the speakers spoke against the proposed text amendment.
The Board of Supervisors, at its Aug. 14 meeting, had requested a Planning Commission recommendation on draft language of the proposed amendment by Sept. 22. The amendment was described as being "on the fast track."
A second public hearing was also originally scheduled for Thursday to consider a special-use permit request from Shawn Deehan, president of Global Dynamic Security Inc., to operate such a facility on some 310 acres at the previous General Shale Brick site, near Somerset in western Orange.
That hearing was postponed, at Deehan's request. It is now scheduled for Oct. 18 at the Orange County High School auditorium.
However, if the text amendment is not passed by the supervisors, the tactical training facility cannot be permitted.
The one-sided nature of the comments Thursday night was summed up by Porter Goss of Rapidan. As speaker No. 76, he noted that he would have called the proposal controversial, "except I haven't heard anybody for it yet!"
Many speakers cited safety, noise and property-value concerns. Several relatively new county residents noted that, had they known that such a facility was under consideration, they would never have purchased their property.
Others objected to the accelerated pace of the proposal and the possible use of .50-caliber weapons.
Conditions specified in the proposed amendment include limiting training to common military and hunting small arms, including, but not limited to, calibers ranging from .22 to .50.
Sean O'Brian, chief operating officer of the Montpelier Foundation, spoke against the proposal. Noting that President James Madison's former home brings in some 125,000 visitors to Orange County each year, employs approximately 140 people and has an annual payroll of $4 million, he said, "The mansion itself is within the circle of impact of .50-caliber weapons that will be fired in this location."
Orange County author and historian Frank S. Walker Jr. had the final word. "I cannot believe," he said, "that you can permit this nuisance to be in Orange County. What it will do to property values, to your other industries, is unconscionable."