TARPON SPRINGS — Some city residents are raising a stink about a huge indoor gun range proposed for U.S. 19, but neighbors who would live closest to it say they like the idea.
About 100 residents of the Stonehedge on the Hill mobile home park this week applauded the plans for Reload Gun Range, a nearly 60,000-square-foot facility proposed next door to the 265-home community.
The range, which would be built at 40050 U.S. 19, on the west side of the highway north of Klosterman Road, is being touted as one of the largest and most advanced in the Southeast. It would be bordered by Stonehedge on the west and south.
Representatives of the developer, European Equities of Clearwater, explained their concept during Stonehedge's homeowners association meeting Wednesday and answered residents' questions about construction, safety, noise, traffic, pollution, pricing, range security and more.
Several residents of the 55-and-up community told the Tampa Bay Times that they are happy the range will replace a vacant and dilapidated IHOP and a Days Inn motel, increasing neighborhood safety and generating about $50,000 a year in tax revenue.
"We're just happy that something nice is coming in there and will be an asset for the city," said Georgia Sego, 81.
Joe Massoud, 78, said he passes the site, a frequent subject of police calls about transients and crime, on his daily walk. Massoud, from Illinois, is a self-proclaimed gun enthusiast who's eager to have a range nearby.
"It's been an eyesore for a long time," he said of the property. He added that he liked that the range would have a law enforcement training area and would draw more police officers to the area.
The Stonehedge residents' reactions Wednesday were in stark contrast to opinions expressed during a meeting the night before, when a handful of Tarpon residents argued with several range supporters and said the facility might spark violence or destroy the city's quaint character.
Several residents accused the city of trying to push through approval without residents' input. They called for the issue to be decided by voter referendum. And they vowed to mobilize against the range, which the City Commission will consider for approval April 15.
The organizer of the anti-gun meeting, Florida Coalition to Stop Gun Violence executive director Arthur Hayhoe, said he was putting European Equities "on notice" that his group will also fight any other gun facilities the company tries to open in Florida.
Hayhoe has said he thinks restrictions on Florida cities' ability to enforce local gun laws would hamper authorities in policing the range's clientele both on and off the premises.
That didn't appear to be a worry for the Stonehedge neighbors.
In response to residents' questions, Justin Floyd, a top European Equities official, said landscaping, a parking lot and double-concrete and steel-enforced walls will buffer the mobile home park from noise and bullets. Bulletproof glass will also protect shooters inside individual booths, and spectators.
"We've taken every precaution, every design element, to make sure this is a safe, soundproof building," he said.
The anticipated hours of operation are 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., with the heaviest use on weekends. But, Floyd said, engineers have determined that the site will draw dramatically less traffic than the previous use and that the range will be quieter than passing traffic on U.S. 19.
He said the building would contain more than 100 surveillance cameras and that employees would constantly patrol shooting lanes. Patrons would be able to rent or bring their own firearms and take classes, and those who bought guns from the range's store would be subject to the same background checks as at stores like Dick's Sporting Goods or Walmart.
Tarpon Springs officials estimate the project will cost at least $10 million and create as many as 40 permanent jobs.
Keyonna Summers can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4153. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.