Side Streets: Upscale Colorado Springs neighborhood preparing to battle gun range

January 15, 2014 Updated: January 15, 2014 at 11:09 am
photo - Bob Holmes, owner of Whistling Pines Gun Club, has proposed building an approximate 18,000-square-foot indoor shooting range, including a 100-yard-long rifle range, on the 2.5-acre lot in the center of the photo, which looks south from the top of a cliff 250 feet above the sight in the Pinecliff neighborhood. Photo courtesy Gail Morrison.
Bob Holmes, owner of Whistling Pines Gun Club, has proposed building an approximate 18,000-square-foot indoor shooting range, including a 100-yard-long rifle range, on the 2.5-acre lot in the center of the photo, which looks south from the top of a cliff 250 feet above the sight in the Pinecliff neighborhood. Photo courtesy Gail Morrison. 

Preparations for war are underway in Pinecliff, a normally serene and secluded, upscale neighborhood in northwest Colorado Springs built atop a ridge known as Popes Bluff.

Armed with sound wave analyses, fears of airborne lead poisoning and, worse, predictions of PTSD-inducing noise from incessant gunfire including perhaps large-caliber machine guns, a small group of neighbors is rallying Pinecliff's 671 homeowners to descend en masse on the Colorado Springs Planning Commission on Thursday.

They hope to persuade the commission to reject an indoor shooting range proposed for construction at the base of Popes Bluff.

But could they be all going off half-cocked, so to speak? Bob Holmes, who wants to build the $3 million-plus shooting range, thinks so.

The commission's agenda includes a request from Holmes, owner of Whistling Pines Gun Club near U.S. 24 and Marksheffel Road, to build a new facility in a light industrial area not far from the Western Forge foundry on the north side of Garden of the Gods Road, just east of Centennial Boulevard.

To be called Whistling Pines West, the club would feature an approximately 18,000-square-foot building, based on plans filed with the Colorado Springs Planning Department. It would be built on a 2.5-acre lot along Douglas Creek that Holmes bought for $245,000 in May 2013, according to El Paso County Assessors records.

A big difference between the east-side facility, which opened in 2006, and the proposed club would be inclusion of a 100-yard-long shooting range big enough to accommodate large-caliber rifles.

The prospect of constant small-arms fire punctuated by the boom of heavy-duty weapons scares residents of Pinecliff, which is bordered by Ute Valley Park, Popes Valley and sits atop the 250-foot-high Popes Bluff outcropping directly overlooking the shooting range site.

"Do not make this a 'gun issue,'?" said Dick Bursell, a neighborhood organizer. "Many objectors are avid gun owners themselves. It really is a home ownership and quality of life issue."

Neighbors have an extreme sense of urgency in their efforts to defeat the gun club after discovering a 1998 law that they say exempts gun clubs from municipal noise ordinances.

"It's what I call the 'Gun Range Sanctuary Protection Act,'?" Bursell said. "Once it's built and in operation, I don't see how the city could press any noise complaints, or enforce their sound or noise ordinances, since they could so easily argue that the sounds are from range's 'normal' operations."

Trouble is, Holmes said, the neighbors are operating on half-truths and misinformation.

Take the notion that 50-caliber BMG - short for Browning Machine Gun - would be fired routinely at the range. Not true, Holmes said.

"The concussion from a 50-caliber BMG is unbearable at an indoor range," Holmes said. "There is never going to be a 50-caliber BMG shot at our range. There will only be hunting rifles."

What about the law protecting indoor shooting ranges from municipal noise ordinances?

"It's not a real fear," Holmes said. "It was written for ranges already in existence before homeowners build their homes. It doesn't apply to us."

Or the idea that lead-filled air will be blown into the neighborhood. Again, untrue, Holmes said, citing a series of air filters to be installed at the range.

"The air going out of the range will be cleaner than the air going in," Holmes said. "And we're not going to charge the city for cleaning its air."

Then there's the fear about incessant noise. Neighbors have attacked a sound wave study commissioned by Holmes that predicts gunfire will not be a problem in Pinecliff. The neighbors have declared it a flawed analysis.

Holmes said his Littleton-based consultant is an unimpeachable expert.

"Chances are, people on that ridge are not going to hear anything," Holmes said, his voice rising in anger and frustration over the neighbors' attacks. "These people are basing all this hysteria on false information."

Neighbors are not comforted by Holmes' pledge to soundproof his building until noise levels don't exceed 45 decibels at the property lines. If he achieves that goal, it would satisfy the city's strictest noise ordinances for residential areas, said Erin McCauley, a city planner who studied the project and recommended it be approved.

Nor do they trust that Holmes added $167,000 to the cost of his building to improve sound-proofing with the addition of what he called "super sound-suppressing doors" and triple-layered sheathing on the roof of the building, ventilation systems pointing south, away from the neighborhood, and more.

"We will not open the facility if we do not meet the 45-decibel criteria," Holmes said. "I will go up to the neighborhood and stand in peoples' front yard with a meter and make sure we are below 45 decibels."

Perhaps resident John Wei best summed up Pinecliff neighbors' fears in an email to me.

"Gunshot noise, no matter what level, is not a noise which is tolerable," Wei said. He noted that of the 16 homes on the street directly above the site, 10 are owned by retirees and nine by military veterans.

He worries even muffled explosions of small and large weapons fired by the club's 2,300 dues-paying members could trigger post-traumatic stress disorder in some of the vets.

"It could resurrect wartime memories," Wei said, describing it as a potential tragedy if these folks can no longer enjoy their retirement years relaxing on their decks and taking in the mountain views their homes enjoy.

"This is a life-changing issue for Pinecliff," Wei said. "If a conditional use is approved for this gun club, a number of Pinecliff residents will be exposed to lifelong repetitive noise. As such, we will most likely be prisoners in our own homes without any recourse."

It will be interesting to see what the commission does with this project at its 8:30 a.m. hearing Thursday.

Funny thing. Before it takes up Whistling Pines, the commission will consider another proposal to build a gun range to be called Majestic Mountain Range on 1.5 acres in an office park near the Colorado Springs Police Department's Falcon substation on Kelly Johnson Boulevard near North Academy Boulevard.

It generated some neighbor questions at a public hearing in December but not the uproar seen in Pinecliff, McCauley said.


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