COA affirms denial of special exception for shooting range in residential area

A Huntington County man could not convince the Indiana Court of Appeals that the denial of his request for an exception to build a shooting range on his property was a mistake.

In 2019, John Michaels petitioned the Huntington County Advisory Board of Zoning Appeals for a special exception to operate his firearms safety instruction business on his property.

The business would consist of an indoor classroom and an outdoor shooting range, located in a low-density residential zoning district, with single-family dwellings, farmland, woods, a museum, and a church surrounding the property.

Although his indoor classroom request was granted and the board was set to approve the outdoor range request, it received a petition with nearly 100 signatures from “citizens of the area impacted by the application,” a letter of opposition from the nearby church citing safety and noise concerns, as well as letters from 16 nearby landowners opposed to the range who expressed concerns about noise, safety, and property values.

A handful of individuals spoke in favor of the range, but the board ultimately denied his request. The Huntington Circuit Court later denied his request for a special exception, which the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed in a Tuesday memorandum decision.

In John Patrick Michaels v. Huntington County, IN Advisory Board of Zoning Appeals (mem. dec.), 21A-PL-00565, Michaels contended that the board and trial court erred in failing to evaluate the denial of his petition in light of the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms and that the board abused its discretion in denying his petition.

“While Michaels does not argue that his Second Amendment rights, or the rights of his potential customers, are being directly violated by the Board’s action, he seemingly contends that the denial of his request for a special exception should nonetheless be subject to some level of heightened scrutiny on review,” Chief Judge Cale Bradford wrote.

The COA concluded that because Michaels did not raise his Second Amendment argument before the board, the claim didn’t need to be addressed further. It also found no abuse of the board’s discretion in denying the exception, citing the numerous letters and complaints of future noise and safety concerns.

“This evidence is more than the scintilla required to qualify as substantial evidence and is therefore sufficient to support the Board’s finding that Michaels’s proposed shooting range would negatively affect properties in the vicinity,” it concluded. “The opinions of nearby landowners regarding the devaluation of their own property are sufficient to support a finding that the shooting range would be injurious to property in the vicinity.”

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