Quail Ridge Owners Win In Court

Commercial rifle and pistol shooting activities at the Quail Ridge Sporting Club’s outdoor range will be allowed to continue.

A zoning decision requiring the club’s owners, Scott and Crystal Guise, to obtain a special exception permit in order to continue with these activities has been overturned by a circuit court judge.

In an order issued last Wednesday, Oct. 16, Judge Paul A. Dryer granted the Guises’ motion for a summary judgment overturning a decision handed down last December by the Rockbridge County Board of Zoning Appeals. The BZA had upheld zoning administrator Sam Crickenberger’s ruling that commercial rifle and pistol shooting activities could not continue unless the owners obtained a special exception permit.

Dryer found that the county’s 2007 ordinance requiring a special exception permit for an outdoor shooting range does not distinguish between different types of shooting and whether or not they are commercialized. The use of the outdoor shooting range at Quail Ridge, in operation since 1992, was grandfathered when the ordinance was enacted.

The Guises purchased the 75-acre Quail Ridge property near Murat from Chris and Lori Salb in 2017. The Salbs operated Quail Ridge Sporting Clays on the property from 1992 to 2017.

The Guises have said that they made nearly $500,000 in improvements to the property after making the purchase. They have referred to a letter they received from Crickenberger before the purchase stating that all of the activities taking place at the property were grandfathered under the 2007 ordinance and could continue.

Shortly thereafter, the county began getting complaints from neighbors about an increase in noise from pistol and rifle shots. The county notified the Guises that they were in violation of the county ordinance and directed them to either stop the rifle and pistol shooting or apply for a permit.

The Guises objected, noting that the county’s definition of an outdoor shooting range encompassed this type of shooting, which they contended had been taking place under the previous ownership. The county stated that it was unaware commercial rifle and pistol shooting had ever occurred on the property. It was pointed out that sporting clays was the only shooting activity that had been listed on the business license application from the previous owners.

At a meeting held Dec. 19 in the Rock-bridge County High School auditorium to accommodate the large crowd that attended, the BZA upheld the zoning administrator’s ruling that pistol and rifle shooting constituted a separate activity that was not grandfathered and therefore required a special exception permit.

In his order granting the Guises’ motion to overturn the BZA’s decision, Dryer stated that the “BZA interpreted the ordinance to mean that each listed shooting activity was a separate use and that each separate use required commercialization. This interpretation of the ordinance is plainly wrong. Nothing in the ordinance states that each listed activity is a separate use that requires commercialization. The plain and natural meaning of the definition of ‘shooting range, outdoor’ as written in the ordinance is one single use type.”

The judge alluded to the first sentence in the ordinance which states that an outdoor shooting range is “a permanently located and improved area designed and operated for the use of … ,” and then lists the different types of firearms, targets and shooting activities. “Similarly,” the judge wrote, “the second sentence of the ordinance provides for exclusions ‘from this use type.’ To reach the interpretation applied by the BZA, the ordinance would need to read ‘excluded from these use types’ or clearly distinguish that each firearm type and shooting sport listed is a separate use type.”

Dryer also wrote: “Trying to reconcile each of the listed activities as separate uses that each require commercialization would require a tortured reading of the ordinance beyond the plain and natural meaning. The plain meaning of the ordinance is that an outdoor shooting range is a singular use type, and the activities listed are not separate uses that each require commercialization.

“Accordingly, this Court finds that the BZA’s interpretation of the ordinance was plainly wrong and erroneous. This Court further finds that ‘shooting range, outdoor’ is a single use and the items listed within the definition are not separate and individual uses that require commercialization. Thus, the petitioners’ current use of their property is within the definition of outdoor shooting range and is therefore grandfathered.”

The judge directed the Guises’ attorney to prepare an appropriate order granting their motion for summary judgment and reversing the BZA’s decision.

Crickenberger on Monday declined comment other than to say it would be up to the Board of Supervisors to determine whether the county appeals the judge’s ruling. The county has 30 days from when the judge’s order is received to respond to it. As of Monday, the order had not yet been received.

The News-Gazette

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