The Bethany Beach Police Department went before the Sussex County Board of Adjustment earlier this week, with the hopes of receiving a special-use exception to operate a shooting range on a property it owns in unincorporated Frankford.
“The application says a target and shooting range. I’ll suggest to you that the more appropriate description of the intended use is a police training facility,” said attorney Rick Berl, who represented the Town of Bethany Beach at the hearing on Feb. 29.
“It’s not for a bunch of guys who are tuning up before hunting season. It’s not for a bunch of guys who want to have fun on a Saturday, doing some target shooting. Those kinds of things you do on video games these days.
“This is a police training facility. It’s for the members of the Bethany Beach Police Department to gain and maintain the certifications they need in the pursuit of their jobs. They’ve all sworn to protect and defend a certain well-defined segment of Sussex County, and in order to do that they need to maintain a certain proficiency in the use of their firearms. That’s precisely what this use is intended to accomplish.”
The property is zoned AR-1 and contains 7.02 acres. It is located on the west side of Blackwater Road, about 1,230 feet north of Burbage Road.
Berl said the range would be “strictly for the Bethany Beach Police Department,” their 10 active officers and two retired officers, including Town Manager Cliff Graviet, a retired Delaware State Police trooper.
Of allowing other agencies using the range, “At this point, that’s not part of the plan,” said Berl.
Berl said the range would not be open to the public or any other law-enforcement agency. As for concerns from citizens, he presented a letter from a Realtor with Bennett Realty, stating the range would not affect property values in the surrounding area.
Berls said the department “generally intends to” limit the use of the property to Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
“It’s a very narrow window and, realistically, no one should expect the range to be in use every day during those four hours… Under no circumstances, however, will that range ever be used on a weekend. That’s the one major promise that they can make, regardless of circumstances.”
John Murray, a project manager at Kercher Engineering, the Town’s engineering firm, said the outdoor range would be protected by a combination berm, fitted on three sides.
Murray said the U.S. Department of the Interior’s design standards for range criteria would be used when designing Bethany’s proposed berm. He also noted that the property was historically used for agricultural purposes and housed a homestead, outbuildings and a poultry house.
Murray explained that the range would be erected on the west end of the property, with fire directed west as well. The closest home to the range itself is 932 feet, with the second-closest home located 1,223 feet from the range.
BBPD Capt. Darin Cathell, who has 19 years in law enforcement, has also been a certified firearms instructor for the last 14 years.
Cathell said all law-enforcement officers in the state are required by the Council on Police Training to shoot two daylight and one lowlight qualifications annually.
“They allow you to combine one daylight and one lowlight qualification on the same day for completion… Outside of those qualifications, we want to allow our officers some use of the range if they want to practice and be proficient.”
He noted, however, that the officers would have to get preapproval to go out and use the range even during those hours.
Cathell said the department chose the mid-morning/early afternoon hours for range operation because they felt it was the “least intrusive to neighboring properties.”
The availability of ranges, said Cathell, is limited, in part because of travel.
“The Bridgeville range is a ride from Bethany Beach. The majority of my officers live on the east side. Getting everybody there at one time leaves our town unattended.”
As for sound from the range, Cathell said the department tested the decibel level of firing his service weapon on the property three times, with a decibel reader located at the far east end of the property.
“The decibel reader during those three rounds read just over 83 decibels. To give you an idea of what that is, at that distance, 85 decibels would be a lawnmower. That’s without a berm.”
The property is not gated, nor does it have a surrounding fence. Cathell said signs have been posted outside the property.
Board member Norman Rickard asked what the department’s plans were to keep unwelcomed people off the property and prevent them from using the range.
“How would you keep an eye on that? Just by people reporting to you?”
“Correct. For the time-being, that’s what it would have to be,” said Cathell, adding that the area is patrolled by the Delaware State Police.
While the County received two letters in support and two in opposition to the application, during the public hearing on Monday, 18 people spoke in opposition to the application. No one spoke in favor. Of those in attendance at Monday’s meeting, 34 were in opposition.
A number of attendees voiced their concerns as to how the range could adversely affect the area’s wildlife, including a number of bald eagles. One man said he wouldn’t be opposed to the range if the officers used “green” bullets and noise suppression on their weapons, to prevent lead seeping into the aquifer.
One attendee questioned why BBPD needed a range, when there were others available within a reasonable driving distance, away from residential properties.
Deborah Salins said she fears the shooting would adversely affect her health.
“I can’t take the shooting noise. It’s just not right,” she said. “This is a nice, quiet residential neighborhood.”
Owen Smith, who lives about a quarter-mile from the range, said noise travels easily, and he can often hear the train in Frankford.
“You all would not want to live near a place like this,” he said. “It’s not the quality of life we seek.”
Willia Peoples, whose property is the second-closest to the range, said she has a great respect for law enforcement and for what the department is trying to do but does not want it in her back yard.
“I feel like it’s very limiting to what now I’m able to look into the future to do,” she said.
Peoples, who owns two Boston terriers and fosters other dogs, said the range would adversely affect when and how she can use her property.
Brian Marvel, who lives with Peebles, said he’s concerned because the department is “very unsure of what they’re going to do.”
“‘Well, it could be this and it could be that.’ There is nothing set in stone on what they’re going to do there,” said Marvel. “We invested in a piece of property, like everyone else in this room. We plan on keeping our investment. I don’t feel this would help us out at all.”
Rickard said that both the applicant and the opposition had given the Board a lot to think about, and moved to table the Board’s decision. The Board unanimously voted to defer action until their March 21 meeting.
To view the exact location of the parcel, visit http://maps.sussexcountyde.gov/OnlineMap/Map.html?ParcelId=134-11.00-54.....