Scotland County commissioners delay vote on combat training facilities

Following a July 29 Scotland County Planning and Zoning committee commissioners were to take up a zoning change that would change zoning rules

FILE PHOTO: A man shoots at a gun range

RALEIGH – The Scotland County Board of Commissioners was set to discuss a new zoning rule last week that would change the oversight of combat and tactical training facilities in the county. The board, however, deferred consideration of the rule after residents raised concerns about the affect the changes could have on residential areas.

The rule changes published agenda for the Monday, Aug. 3 meeting of the board of commissioners included the notation “ASK TO TABLE UNTIL SEPTEMBER”.

The proposal, approved by the Scotland County Planning and Zoning Board on July 29, passed by voice vote at a special meeting of the board, which typically meets the third Wednesday of each month, as needed. The meeting, attended telephonically by around two dozen members of the public, was focused on approving the proposal and did not allow for public comments. After approving the proposal, the board continued to discuss the process after adjourning the meeting and turning off the official recording.

On Thursday, July 30, Chad Essick, a lawyer with Poyner Spruill who represents Scotland County, sent an e-mail to several lawyers interested in the zoning rules. The e-mail said the board of commissioners would not be considering the changes on Aug. 3.

“Included on this email are attorneys who have reached out to me regarding the zoning text change that is pending in Scotland County concerning combat and tactical training facilities,” said Essick. “I am writing to notify everyone that the public hearing that is currently scheduled before the County Commissioners on Monday, August 3 to consider this text change will be postponed. I will notify everyone once the procedural process and schedule for consideration of this text change has been finalized.”

Included in the e-mail recipients were lawyers from Smith Anderson in Raleigh, Kilpatrick Townsend in Winston-Salem, and The Brough Law Firm in Chapel Hill. The Brough firm represents Defense Government Contracting International, a defense contracting company from Northern Virginia. The Brough firm website says the firm is “primarily devoted to land use, local government, and school system work.”

In 2002, Scotland County added a buffer requirement to its zoning ordinance. That ordinance required land buffers to be created when re-zoning request includes non-residential activities adjacent to a residential district. The ordinance says the buffers are to protect adjacent residential property from nuisances created by the non-residential use. Applicants would need to receive a conditional use permit from the Planning and Zoning board and could be required to post a performance bond under the current rules.

According to local residents, the proposed changes would benefit the defense contractor DGCI. In 2018, DGCI received a rezoning request to perform non-firearm, military training on the property in Scotland County. That request was approved by the Board of Commissioners on Nov. 5, 2018.

Approximately two dozen citizens joined the Planning and Zoning meeting on July 29 where a proposal was presented to allow tactical and combat training facilities in the Neighborhood Commercial Zoning Districts of Scotland County without requiring the conditional use permit or any neighbor input. The proposed changes would eliminate the buffer requirements for non-residential uses adjacent to residential areas and add several new sections to the county’s zoning code related to combat and tactical training facilities.

The changes include adding a definition of “combat training facility” and “tactical training facility.” Combat training facilities include activities with “live ammunition such as individual small arms, crew-served weapons or explosive devices, or simulated rocket-propelled grenades” and may include “air ranges for air-to-ground helicopter landing zones, drop zones, and electronic combat training; indoor and outdoor live-firing ranges; and ground maneuver ranges to conduct realistic force-on-force and live-fire training.”

The proposed changes also set minimum requirements for combat and tactical facilities with both types required to occupy 30 or more acres. Combat facilities would only be permitted in Heavy Industrial (L2) districts under a conditional use permit. The rules would also require the facilities to be no closer than 300 feet to an adjacent property line and to preserver a 100-foot buffer of natural vegetation “to the extent practicable.”

Tactical facilities, which would be allowed to use blanks and other simulated weapons “no more than 60 days out of a calendar year” under the proposed rule, could be created in Neighborhood Commercial (C1), Highway Commercial (HC), Light Industrial (L1), and Heavy Industrial (L2) zoning districts. Limitation on tactical facilities includes 80-decibel noise limits, 100 feet of buffer and buildings to be set back 100 feet from the adjacent property line.

The proposal before the board of commissioners also says that tactical and combat training facilities shall be permitted by right in the zoning districts where the facilities are allowed.

The proposed zoning ordinance change is not limited to training facilities like DGCI’s. The amendment removes rules regarding buffers and conditional use permits in general for non-residential uses adjacent to residential property.

Other counties in North Carolina don’t allow tactical training facilities to be built without input from affected property owners in the form of a conditional use permit. Cumberland County has implemented rules to protect adjacent property owners with nuisance and environmental concerns.