NC Court of Appeals rules against proposed Franklin County shooting range

The N.C. Court of Appeals has ruled that a shooting range cannot operate in Franklin County because the county’s development rules do not explicitly allow them.

Aaron Byrd and Eric Coombs of Louisburg hoped to build a 14-acre outdoor shooting range on Byrd’s property on Dunn Road. The county denied the request, and Byrd and Coombs sued, saying the county can’t prevent a business that is not listed in its development code.

But in a ruling this week, the Court of Appeals disagreed.

“It would be absurd to state that a use is allowed as a matter of right everywhere in a county, simply because the county failed to list the use expressly by name in its ordinance,” according to the ruling issued Tuesday.

The Franklin County Board of Commissioners denied a request for a special-use permit for the shooting range project in December 2012, according to the Court of Appeals ruling.

County leaders expressed concerns about noise and nearby neighbors, including a church, according to minutes from the meeting. They did not say that shooting ranges are prohibited because they are not listed as an acceptable use under the county’s development code, minutes show.

In September 2013, Judge Robert H. Hobgood in Franklin County Superior Court upheld a county Board of Adjustment order that the shooting range project be stopped.

Byrd and Coombs appealed to the Court of Appeals, which rejected their argument that the county did not have the authority to bar the range.

George Currin, an attorney representing Byrd and Coombs, said the pair plan to appeal again to the N.C. Supreme Court. That appeal is allowed, Currin said, because the Court of Appeals decision was not unanimous.

Judge Robert C. Hunter dissented in part of the ruling. Hunter wrote that he did not agree with the majority’s position that the development code “prohibits any land use that it does not specifically name.”

Byrd and Coombs could also ask Franklin County to change its development rules to allow a shooting range. Byrd said he’s not sure if they will do that.

Byrd said the problem is that county officials tried to make up their own rules.

“We tried to comply with what they asked us to do,” he said. “But they never gave us proper guidelines and decided to make it up as they went along.”

Initially, Byrd and Coombs received conflicting information about whether shooting ranges are allowed to operate in Franklin County, according to the Court of Appeals ruling.

When the men applied for a special-use permit for the project, Franklin County had four shooting ranges. At least three are still operating.

Scott Hammerbacher, the county’s planning director, said those ranges were approved before the county adopted its Unified Development Ordinance in 1986, so they are allowed to continue operating.