TARPON SPRINGS — The city's Planning and Zoning Board members aren't among those who fear a nearly 60,000-square-foot indoor gun range will bring noise, pollution and the potential for violence to Tarpon Springs. They gave unanimous, even enthusiastic, support to the proposed range Monday night.
European Equities, a Clearwater development firm, wants to build Reload Gun Range at 40050 U.S. 19, on the west side of the highway north of Klosterman Road.
The 45-lane range would replace a long-vacant, dilapidated restaurant and motel and would include a cafe, gunsmith service, classroom space, a 10,000-square-foot store and training areas for police.
A high-tech ventilation system would filter gun smoke residue from the air, concrete walls would provide soundproofing and safety, and machinery would automatically collect bullet fragments for recycling.
Developers say Reload would be one of the largest and most advanced ranges in the Southeast and would draw customers from as far as an hour away.
In pitching the project, the developers note the facility would remove an eyesore, generate tax revenue, create as many as 200 temporary construction jobs and 40 permanent positions for range workers and vendors, boost tourism and the U.S. 19 corridor.
The zoning board, which by law can consider only whether projects meet city code, followed a staff recommendation to unanimously recommend the project to the City Commission. Several members praised the proposal.
"I've reviewed the site plans and I'm impressed," said board member William Vinson, who is also pleased at the prospect of no longer having to travel to an outdoor gun range in Pinellas Park.
"I think they've met every requirement of the city" and even gone "above and beyond," added member Anita Protos.
Regarding objections from about a half-dozen individuals and organizations who have called or emailed the city, she said, "I think once they realize what it is and how it works, the fear will be gone."
That wasn't the case for resident Joseph Rainier, who spoke against the project Monday.
He urged the city to seek Environmental Protection Agency assurance that lead from bullets won't contaminate the city's air and water. He also was concerned that the range could draw as many as 90 people per hour with guns.
"We have enough people with guns and they're not responsible with it," he said. "Is that something we want in the city?"
But at least four of the roughly 20 people in the audience, including a police officer, publicly stated their support.
Several speakers echoed board members' questions about the potential for noise, bullets or pollutants to escape the building.
Justin Floyd, a top European Equities official, said the site plan was created with input from ARC3 architects and range equipment manufacturer Action Target, both industry leaders that have helped design other ranges including the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office training facility.
Floyd said the lanes would carry noise downwind from neighbors, rendering it inaudible beyond the property line. He said a consultant determined the sound of gunfire would be quieter outside than the noise of vehicles traveling U.S. 19.
The roof and walls, he said, would feature several layers of concrete and steel that's specially designed to handle bullet impacts and to buffer noise.
"A bullet cannot leave this building," Floyd said.
He said the EPA, which has authority to shut down ranges, would monitor pollutant emissions. Employees would not handle bullet fragments, but the range would test employees' blood quarterly for lead levels.
Floyd said the company has already signed agreements with the National Rifle Association and National Shooting Sports Foundation to offer 20 to 30 classes, including youth programs that could be tailored to other groups.
Former Tarpon police officer Pete Saroukos said he's only ever heard light tapping from the Sheriff's Office range, which is outdoors. He said people who go to ranges are typically educated in their use. And Mike Trill, a Tarpon police officer, said he's eager for a place nearby to teach his sons how to handle firearms.
The project comes before the City Commission for final approval April 15.
Next week, the range developers will meet with residents in the adjacent Stonehedge on the Hill Mobile Home Park.
The Florida Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, which opposes the range, will host a public informational meeting from 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday at the Tarpon Springs Community Center, 400 S Walton Ave.
Keyonna Summers can be reached at (727) 445-4153, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @KeyonnaSummers. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.