BY MIKE FUHRMAN
Cliff and Margie Whitley are adamant that they have nothing against law enforcement, and they support responsible gun ownership.
They just want a little peace and quiet.
Six months after the local Fraternal Order of Police Lodge opened a shooting range on property near the organization’s new facility off Wing Drive in western Iredell County, the Whitleys and some of their neighbors have grown tired of the sound of incessant gunfire – and the county government’s unwillingness to step in and help.
“Sometimes it sounds like a war zone,” Margie said.
“It’s ridiculous,” Cliff added. “I don’t think it’s fair for the county to allow this to happen. It’s an unwanted burden on us.”
Rodney James, who serves as president of the FOP Lodge, said he is sympathetic to the residents’ concerns and he insists his organization wants to be a good neighbor. Most people, including folks who live near the range, realize the great work the FOP does in the community — including spending $10,000 to improve Wing Drive and spending $40,000 to help needy families during the holidays — and the importance of the shooting range, he added.
“One or two are stirring up everybody,” James said, adding that he doubts the sincerity of anyone who claims to be pro-law enforcement and then complains about the essential service the FOP provides with its range.
“You can’t have it both ways,” he said. “You can’t say you’re for the police and then not be for us shooting after dark. You can’t be lactose intolerant and eat ice cream too.”
The Whitleys and some of their neighbors have been complaining to Iredell County commissioners and the county’s administrative staff since mid-May, when the FOP opened the shooting range without securing a special-use permit, which is required because the property is zoned for residential and agricultural uses.
Nearby residents were never informed that the FOP was planning to open a range on the 70-plus acres it owns on the north side of Interstate 40. Two residents, who asked their names not be used because they did not want to be seen as anti-law enforcement, echoed the Whitleys’ hopes that the county will require the FOP to find a way to reduce the noise associated with the range and limit the hours of operation.
“It just sounds like fireworks all the time,” one resident complained.
“It sounded like World War III the other night at 8:30,” another added. “I don’t want to hear it every night when I’m trying to relax.”
Another neighbor on Mock Mill Road routinely wears noise-canceling headphones throughout the day to drown out the noise, and another neighbor’s dog has been so stressed by the sound of gunfire that it is now on anxiety medication, Margie Whitley said.
‘It’s going to be a fight’
James was advised by county staff in January of 2022, when the FOP obtained a special-use permit for the new lodge, that it would need to apply for a separate permit before it could open a shooting range.
However, the FOP never applied for the permit for the shooting range, which is now used regularly by seven law enforcement agencies.
Iredell County Planning Director Matthew Todd said his staff has been in communication with the FOP regularly over the past six months about the issue. Staff remained hopeful that the FOP would voluntarily comply with the county’s zoning requirements and apply for the special-use permit. That process involves submitting a three-page application, which includes a site plan and an analysis by a professional property appraiser.
The application is then considered by the Board of Adjustment, which has the final decision over whether to grant the special-use permit and include any conditions, such as hours of operation of the shooting range.
On October 10, the Iredell County Planning & Development Department issued the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge with a Zoning Violation for:
♦ Operating an outdoor shooting range;
♦ Violation of existing special use permit and site plan;
♦ Failure to obtain a special use permit for the operation of an outdoor shooting range; and
♦ Failure to obtain non-residential site plan approved for an outdoor shooting range
The Notice informed the FOP that if the violations were not corrected within 30 days, the Iredell County Planning & Development Department could issue a civil citation, revoke the lodge’s certificate of occupancy, seek a court injunction or issue a criminal summons.
When that 30-day window closed on November 9, the FOP still had not applied for a special-use permit and the range was still being used regularly, including after dark. The range continued to be in use over the weekend.
So, on Tuesday, the Planning Department staff issued an official citation for the underlying violations. The citation carries a fine of $100 per day, Todd said, adding that the county could take additional action if the range is not closed within seven days of the issuance of the citation.
James said Tuesday evening that he had not seen the citation, which was sent by mail. The threat of a fine, he said, would not force the FOP to shut down the range.
Too many agencies rely on the range, he said, and residents of Iredell County expect their law enforcement officers to be proficient with their firearms if the need to use them arises.
“If they want to fine me $100 a day for taking care of law enforcement, it’s going to be a fight,” James said.
Meanwhile, the FOP has been working on its application for the special-use permit with its attorneys and a property appraiser. James predicted the application would be completed within a few days, and he was hopeful that the Board of Adjustment could consider the application quickly.
County officials said it is unlikely that the Board of Adjustment would consider the application before its meeting on January 19.