A security instructor has withdrawn his plans for an outdoor gun range that faced strong opposition from the residents of the Pilot Country and Pasco Trails neighborhoods.
An attorney for Skip Drish sent an email Tuesday to county staff saying her client would no longer seek a permit for the gun range, which had been proposed to sit on 13 acres of the Watson cattle ranch on the north side of State Road 52, just east of U.S. 41. The two-sentence email did not give a reason.
Drish is a retired Illinois police officer who owns a security training firm in Lutz called Serve & Educate LLC. His attorney, Barbara Wilhite, told the Tampa Bay Times that her client withdrew the request so the company can move its Lutz operations to the property off SR 52.
"Their plan is to expand that business here in Pasco to create a public safety campus which will bring much needed jobs to the area and will train Pasco residents so they can secure good jobs in the county," she said.
Drish bought 80 acres of the 134-acre property last summer, saying he planned a public safety university that would include a gun range, which would operate from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.
Neighbors, who accused Drish of trying to sneak the gun range past them, mobilized swiftly. County planner Denise Hernandez said she received at least 90 letters from gun range opponents, and two petitions with 92 and 122 signatures respectively.
Withdrawing the request allows him to reapply at any time. Had county commissioners denied the request, he would have had to wait a year before reapplying. He could have applied for a different project after six months.
Drish's withdrawal comes at a time when passions related to gun use are running high. The Dec. 14 shooting deaths of 20 students and six staff members at Connecticut's Sandy Hook Elementary School, as well as other recent high profile shootings, prompted President Barack Obama to announce sweeping proposals Wednesday that gun rights advocates vow to fight.
No one would speculate on whether the controversy influenced Drish's actions.
"I'm sure all the opposition he was dealing with had a lot to do with it," said Darrell Wallace, vice president of the homeowners association for Pilot Country, an aviation-themed neighborhood that includes an airport and homes that boast hangars in lieu of garages.
The site sits between Pilot Country and Pasco Trails, a horse-themed community with pastures and stables and street names such as Secretariat Road and Winners Circle.
The homeowners associations teamed up to fight the project, vowing to take it to the courts if necessary.
Residents' concerns included excessive gun noise that might traumatize some ex-military residents and spook horses, ammunition that might pose a safety hazard to aircraft, passengers and people on the ground, lower property values and a poorer quality of life.
Residents said Drish intentionally put the gun range 1,020 feet from both communities. County rules require notification for properties that lie within 1,000 feet of a project. They said they found out about the project by accident. Drish previously told the Times he was required to notify the Federal Aviation Administration, and he wasn't sneaking anything past anyone.
Drish said tests showed that with the noise controls he planned, the gunfire was half as noisy as a cow's moo, which he said was 82 decibels.
"That's quieter than a plane," he told the Times in August. He also planned to install 24-foot berms and have lead levels checked twice a year by a third party. Drish also said gun ranges are typically built near airports because the planes already create more noise.
Homeowners questioned Drish's findings and said their own studies showed shooting to measure more than 100 decibels, well past the 41-decibel range that Drish had cited.
"It's an assault on my environment," said Bob Millaway, president of the Pasco Trails homeowners association. "This is a countrylike environment. A gun range is not a good fit."
Millaway expressed cautious optimism over the victory.
"I don't think anybody's doing a dance across Highway 52, but we're pretty close," he said.
Millaway, who pointed out that he's a lifetime member of the National Rifle Association, said he's not anti-gun range, but Drish's was in the wrong location.
Regular bouts of gunfire, he said, "did not fit in the category of a placid, country environment."