“Retail will be open in eight to 10 weeks,” said Jule Morrow, the owner of Mountain Range. The actual shooting range will open sometime near the end of August or beginning of September.
Although the 30-by-80-foot retail store and 30-by-130-foot shooting range are located on Palmer Road — at the intersection with Francis Farm Road — they’re also located at the intersection of a vigorous debate about private property rights, zoning legislation, family ties, and changing attitudes about guns.
It all started in December 2015, right around Christmas; citizens began to voice concerns when it was learned that Morrow planned to build Haywood County’s first and only indoor shooting range on a 15-acre tract of land owned by his mother northeast of Waynesville. It would, he said, be the largest and most modern shooting range in North Carolina west of Asheville.
Residents — many of whom, like Morrow, have lived in the area for generations — mentioned unwanted traffic, unsatisfactory spacing and unsavory characters as reasons why the range shouldn’t be built. They cited the aesthetics, the noise and even accused Morrow of planning to build an outdoor shooting range on the property.
Morrow said that wasn’t the plan then, nor is it now. He also says that he’s incurred extra costs to address some of the concerns raised.
“I’ve moved it down, closest to the road, away from the residential area, and graded it down so that my roof line’s not up [above the ridge line],” he said. “The septic system has to pump uphill, as opposed to if I’d built on the high point of the land, I wouldn’t have had to have that.”
Morrow’s plans still include 14 shooting lanes, and a slightly larger retail area than he’d originally considered.
In the end, the Haywood County Board of Commissioners was powerless to do anything about the indoor range but did issue a moratorium on the construction of outdoor shooting ranges.
Commissioners balked at the idea of singling out one lone business.
“I am not really interested in telling people what they can do with their property until we discuss the whole issue as a county,” said Commissioner Kirk Kirkpatrick in January.
Even if a moratorium on indoor shooting ranges had been put in place, “it wouldn’t have done anything,” said Morrow. “The first thing you do is apply for a septic permit. I applied for that Dec. 10, and that locked in place what the rules were.”
Morrow thinks his project would have been grandfathered in because of the septic permit, rendering public calls for the moratorium moot. “There is no zoning in Haywood County,” Morrow said. “People can do anything they want to.”
Or, almost anything: billboards, junkyards, trailer parks, and strip clubs have caught the eye of county commissioners in the past; more recently, outdoor shooting ranges have been their target, as a direct response to what Morrow thinks was fear mongering by opponents.
As another consequence of Morrow’s plans, discussion over Haywood County’s land use plan and comprehensive zoning regulations — or lack thereof — has gained renewed fervor. The only thing that could have prevented Morrow’s development would have been stiff zoning regulations — something Haywood County residents turned out in force against 20 years ago.
County Attorney Chip Killian said it was the last time he could recall a meeting being “standing room only.”
Commission Chairman Mark Swanger said public perception may have shifted in the last 20 years and suggested in April that it might again be time to revisit the issue.
A telephone poll of 800 residents commissioned by Haywood County and conducted by Western Carolina University’s Public Policy Institute this past spring seems to back up Swanger’s speculation.
Almost 40 percent of respondents said land development issues were a “major problem,” and two-thirds support a land-use plan.