BRADENTON -- A shooting range and resort that has been operating in Myakka without permits since 2010 must cease all commercial operation until permits and site plans are approved, a judge ruled Monday.
Circuit Court Judge Janette Dunnigan granted an injunction sought by owners of property near the Rocky Creek Ranch Shooting Resort at 38820 Taylor Road.
While the injunction bars commercial shooting activity, private shooting is allowed.
Property owners in Myakka City first complained about activity at Rocky Creek in early 2012. The resort website, floridashootingresort.com, advertises pistol marksmanship training, personal and home defense skills, and "tactical run-n-gun drills."
Photos on the site show people firing a variety of weapons, including semi-automatic assault rifles and machine guns. Rocky Creek is owned by Christopher, Virginia and Joanna Baden.
The plaintiffs, owners of the Rocking Seven Ranch and Howse Ranch, claim bullets from the gun range routinely land on their property, creating safety and noise hazards, as well as the potential for property damage. The suit claimed the firing ranges on the Baden land are "improperly constructed and dangerous," posing an "immediate, imminent and potentially deadly threat."
Plaintiff attorney Matthew Taylor told the court his clients took legal action because the Badens continue to operate the shooting range despite violation notices.
"If the Badens had a history of doing what the county told them to do, we would not be here," Taylor told Judge Dunnigan. "They have flat-out ignored" the county.
Ed Vogler, attorney for the Badens, said Chris Baden, who manages the shooting operation, applied for a special use permit as soon as he became aware he needed one. The permits have yet to be issued by a special magistrate who has to rule on the application.
County planning staff has recommended approval. Planner Shelly Hamilton of the Manatee County Building and Planning Services, testified that on advice from the county attorney, only noise issues were considered as safety concerns. The kind of weapons used at the range, direction of fire or projectile trajectory were not consid
ered, she said.
Colton McCloud, who works on his father's property next to the Badens', told the court he and another worker took shelter behind heavy machinery when ricochets from metal targets near the property line began to fly over their heads.
The shooting range has also been the subject of code enforcement. At an April 10 hearing, the board considered potential building use violations at Rocky Creek, including a house and barn being used as customer lodging without permits, and using an RV with electrical hookup as a temporary dwelling without a permit.
The code enforcement board refused to hear any discussion about shooting activity. That hearing ended with no action because no code enforcement officers had actually seen inside the buildings on the property to determine if violations exist. Another hearing is set for May 8.
At Monday's hearing, Vogler challenged testimony about errant bullets whizzing overhead or striking nearby trees. Garret Barnes, owner of the Rocking Seven Ranch, testified he has heard bullets fly over his head while on his own property. Vogler suggested since the shooting ranges cannot be seen from the property lines, no one can actually be sure the bullets are coming from Rocky Creek.
Vogler also said it cannot be proven the ranch has not been in compliance since a notice of violation was issued in May 2012. "There is zero evidence of any violation after the notice of violation," he said.
Witnesses for the Badens, firearms instructors who have supervised shooting or been a student at Rocky Creek, said the operation was extremely safe.
"It's state-of-the-art," said David Martin, chief range safety officer for Rocky Creek.
Chris Baden testified that safety for shooters and neighboring residents is a main concern. If permits are granted, he said the range will be designed "to provide safety ... for all parties."
Jim DeLa, Herald editor, can be reached at 748-7011.