Board Says Supervisors Erred
Members Agree That Due Process Violated In Shooting Camp Decision
July 18, 2001|By TINA MCCLOUD Daily Press
MIDDLESEX — The county zoning board decided Monday that the supervisors overstepped their bounds in a gun- related decision.
In April, the Board of Supervisors ordered the zoning director to notify Macey White Jr. that a one-day shooting camp for youngsters wouldn't be allowed at his Hartfield farm.
The supervisors' directive went against advice from the county attorney, who told them that the proper process was to file an appeal with the zoning board.
White and the Middlesex Pistol Hunter's Club did appeal to the zoning board. Lawyers for the National Rifle Association, representing White at no charge, argued that his constitutional right to due process had been violated.
The Board of Zoning Appeals agreed.
"There is a process which we go through, and the process was not followed," Vice Chairman Gene Major said.
The supervisors or other citizens who disagree could appeal the zoning appeals board's decision to circuit court.
White is allowed to have a hunt club at his farm. However, hunt clubs aren't defined in the zoning ordinance, and that has led to several disputes with neighbors over what type of shooting is allowed there.
In December, the supervisors turned down White's request for a skeet-shooting range.
In March, White asked zoning director Timothy Wilson whether a one-day educational shooting camp for youngsters would comply with zoning regulations. Wilson initially said no. But White provided additional information to Wilson, who changed his mind and gave his approval.
Neighbors and some supervisors learned of the planned event after White put up a sign at the farm, where a one-day shooting camp was conducted without objection last year.
The supervisors took up the matter during their April 17 meeting, though it wasn't on the agenda. Some opponents were allowed to speak to the board, but White wasn't notified.
The county attorney told the board that day that the proper procedure was for the board to appeal the zoning director's decision permitting the camp to the Board of Zoning Appeals. However, the shooting camp was going to be conducted only a few days later, before that board's next meeting.
On Monday night, NRA attorney Daniel M. Zavadil argued that it was "absolutely wrong" for the supervisors to use undue influence to instruct the zoning administrator to rescind permission for the camp.
"You can't order him to change his opinion because you don't like it. You just can't," Zavadil said.
The board also heard from James H. Ward Jr., who represented the board of directors of the Coves of Wilton Creek, a residential area near the farm. He said the zoning administrator's initial denial of permission was correct. He noted that White didn't appeal that to the Board of Zoning Appeals at that time but simply provided more information to the zoning administrator, who then changed his mind.
Zavadil countered later that state law gave the zoning administrator 60 days to change his mind based on new information.
There were about 19 other speakers, almost all of whom spoke for or against shooting at the farm based on environmental, noise or safety concerns, not on the due-process concern that was the issue before the board.
Major, of the zoning board, commented early in the meeting that those arguments were informative but had "nothing to do with the appeal process."
After the meeting, NRA lawyer, Zavadil, indicated that court action against the county regarding the due-process issue could be forthcoming.
White said he intended to put on the shooting camp next spring and continue to have the hunt-club activities as he had for more than two years.
County Attorney Michael Soberick said that the supervisors probably would discuss whether to appeal but that it was unlikely that he would represent them if they did.
Tina McCloud can be reached at (804) 642-1746 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org