A crowd that spilled out of the Leavenworth County Commission chambers spoke out Wednesday both for and against a proposal for a gun range in the northwestern portion of Leavenworth County.
Former Leavenworth Police Officer and National Guard member Todd Bledsoe was asking for the Leavenworth County Planning Commission to grant a special-use permit for him to use as a gun range for his business, Night Ops LLC.
“The mainstay of my business is concealed-carry training,” he told the commission following a briefing report from staff.
Bledsoe's property is located off of Santa Fe Trail Road, about a quarter mile west of 179th Street about 4-1/2 miles northwest of the city limits of Leavenworth. The 8-acre tract, as proposed, would have its range carved into a 20-foot natural backstop in the center of the property, with shooters facing south and 10-foot berms on either side.
The closest residence, according to County Planner David Dalecky, is about 680 feet from the range. Others were between 1,250 and more than 1,900 feet. Planners had attached 20 different conditions to the permit, should it be approved, ranging from limiting the hours to between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. seven days a week to limitations on the caliber of guns that could be fired there.
Bledsoe, responding to concerns that he had already heard about the idea, said his classes were small and would only likely take place three times a month. He added that safety during those classes was among his top concerns.
“If I let rounds out of there,” he said of the potential for stray bullets to land outside the facility, “I'm responsible for that.”
Opponents of the permit for the range complained about the potential noise, the potential pollution from lead and the hazard of stray rounds.
“We all moved to the country for some peace of mind,” said Trish Wiles, a resident of the area who spoke out against Bledsoe's request.
She mentioned a number of potential hazards with the site plan, including the lack of warning flags and the presence of high voltage power lines overhead. Lee Stieger, representing the Leavenworth County Historical Society, expressed concern that the range could harm potential historical value of that area as the site of a farmstead once belonging to the family of “Buffalo” Bill Cody.
John Chappell, a Lawrence attorney representing one of the nearby property owners, said the matter was not one of whether Bledsoe should be allowed to operate a gun range.
“The real issue is should it be there?” he asked the commission.
Other speakers mentioned the potential impact on property values in the surrounding areas, the effect of gunfire on animals and the availability of other ranges, though Bledsoe said no other ranges were easily available. But the permit application had defenders, as well.
Page 2 of 2 - “He turned my fear into respect,” said Tonganoxie resident and former Bledsoe student Connie O'Brien, praising Bledsoe's classes.
Tommy Herken, a fellow concealed-carry teacher who has worked with Bledsoe, said he's seen ranges from Texas to Arizona.
“It's one of the better ones for a private range,” he said. “I know he teaches his students from the basics up. He doesn't take any chances.”
Several others mentioned the potential economic benefit of having such a range in Leavenworth County.
But the planning commission denied the request unanimously. Most took no issue with gun ranges in general, but, as they voted and explained their actions, the members said the use just did not seem to be a good fit.
“It's the size of the property, basically,” said Commission Chairman Steve Rosenthal, which he added at 8 acres was too small to alleviate all fears or quash the majority of the noise for the surrounding property owners.
However, Rosenthal said after the vote that the Leavenworth County Commission would conduct a separate hearing on the matter during a meeting scheduled for 9 a.m. June 27 in the commission's chambers at the County Courthouse.
“We are just a recommending body,” he said.