City Council talks outdoor gun range at joint Police Fire Training Center
March 4th, 2016
During Tuesday’s Omaha City Council meeting, angry residents accused Council members of going back on promises made by previous Councils.
The first item on the Council agenda was one that’s been there before: whether to pass an amendment which would allow for the building of a Fresh Thyme Farmers Market in west Omaha’s Tivoli subdivision. After two weeks debating on the best way to fit a square store into a round lot, Council members unceremoniously passed the amendment 7-0.
Council members also unanimously voted to approve nine appointments by Mayor Jean Stothert to the City’s Human Rights and Relations Board. At a pre-Council meeting earlier in the day, Spencer Danner, the Director of the Human Rights and Relations Department, said the nine people chosen for the board will be fully engaged in making sure the City’s policies are carried out.
From there, Council members approved around $3 million in tax increment financing for four projects; including one project that would see a total of 19 row-houses built near 10th and Pierce Streets in southeast Omaha’s Little Italy.
Bridget Hadley with the City Planning Department said the area hasn’t seen much housing for sale since 2009.
“So what this project does is bring back into the area for-sale housing, town home housing for individuals who may want another type of housing style,” Hadley said. “It helps to strengthen an already strong neighborhood and I believe you have received four letters of support from various neighborhood groups and individuals.”
Council members spent the bulk of Tuesday’s meeting discussing a conditional use permit which restricts operations at the joint Police and Fire Training Facility, located at Rainwood and Blair High Roads in a semi-rural area of northwest Omaha.
Deputy City Attorney Bernard in den Bosch told Council members when the facility was originally permitted in July of 2000, the Council at the time made a deal with neighbors concerning how the facility would operate.
“That particular ordinance specifically indicated there were two limits. One limit was there were no discharge of firearms to be on the site except in an indoor firing range, and the second was that no one was to sleep overnight unless it was a caretaker,” in den Bosch said.
Even though the permit specifically bars the building of an outdoor shooting range at the training facility, the Omaha Police Department is asking the Council to lift that ban. OPD’s proposed range includes 20 50-yard shooting lanes and 4 100-yard lanes.
OPD Captain Adam Kyle told Council members law enforcement has changed since 2000, and even with the department’s two indoor facilities, OPD has a legal liability to train officers in similar conditions to what they’ll face on the streets.
“The reason we need an outdoor gun range, is because we need to experience– in some fashion– heat change, temperature change, climate change, humidity levels, dust, wind, sunlight. We want the best possible simulation that we can get,” Captain Kyle said.
Around 20 opponents to the amendment change were at Tuesday’s meeting. Those who addressed the Council said they had safety concerns about living near an outdoor range. The issue of noise pollution was also raised.
Stan Meredith lives near the site. He said while he appreciates and stands behind law enforcement, if the Council amended the permit, and allowed plans to build the outdoor range to move forward, they would be breaking the promise he’d received previously from city officials.
“[An outdoor shooting range] was expressly singled out and signed off as a condition of the original conditional use permit that there would not be an outdoor range. It’s very disheartening now to be a tax payer and now to see a different mayoral administration change and over-ride a decision that a former mayor signed off on as a condition that would never occur,” Meredith said.
Most of the Council members individually expressed concerns about undoing or changing what previous Councils had done, but they also seemed to echo Councilman Franklin Thompson’s sentiment when he said in government, there really are no promises.
“Truth is defined situationaly [sic] and momentarily. Ultimately we’re going to have to make a determination between those two factors of the need on one hand and our word on the other,” Thompson said. “I thought I came in here knowing exactly how I was going to vote on this, but I do have to sit back and think because I’ve heard some good testimony.”
No action was taken Tuesday on the permit amendment. Lawyers for both sides said they would meet before next week’s Council meeting when a vote on the amendment is scheduled. But, several Council members did indicate they aren’t opposed to laying the item over until an agreeable solution is worked out.
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