Neighbors of Myakka gun range raise new wetlands concerns

dgraham@bradenton.comMay 4, 2013 

MYAKKA CITY -- Potential wetlands and water resource impact from a proposed tactical gun range in Myakka City are the latest concerns raised by neighbors objecting to the special hearing officer's intent to approve its special permit.

"A proper evaluation of the potential wetland and water resource impact from the proposed use would take into consideration that directly adjacent to the southern boundary of the property is Flatford Swamp, which is a headwater to the Myakka River, which has been designated a Florida Wild and Scenic River," a letter from attorney Kevin Hennessy reads.

The complaint comes from Hennessy on behalf of Rocking 7 Ranch and Farms, owned by Garret and Elizabeth Barnes. Joining them in the response were adjacent landowners and their employees or guests including Jim and Colton McLeod, Mathew Taylor, Jennifer and Michael Winterbottom and Tom Howze.

Wittmer gave notice of her intent to OK the permit

April 26. Parties opposed to the permit were given until 5 p.m. Friday to respond. Wittmer now has 10 days to either approve the permit, reopen the public hearing or deny the permit.

Neighbors of the gun range have also complained to the county Code Enforecement Board and won a civil injunction against the shooting operation citing safety concens.

At the initial special permit hearing April 8 before hearing officer Meg Wittner, the Southwest Florida Water Management District, which owns the swampy property adjacent to the southern boundary of Chris Baden's land, was represented by Tara Poulton, government affairs program manager. She raised no objections at the public hearing.

"Our land division received written notification on March 28, 2013, from Myakka Valley Arms, LLC, about the hearing. Traditionally, the district would not have any opinion supporting or objecting to any special use permit requests for property adjacent to district land," Suzanna Martinez Tarokh, SWFMD public information officer, wrote in an e-mail to the Herald.

"Now what we're doing is hoping for clarification on some things," said Taylor, who wants the county to bring in testimony from experts on gun range design to consult on how it should be seeded and sodded, as well as how it should be built to address safety, sound impact and environmental consequences.

The Rocking 7 Ranch won a civil injunction against the range, advertised as the Rocky Creek Ranch Shooting Resort.

Twelfth Circuit Court Judge Janette Dunnigan ruled April 22 for the plantiffs, who claimed the range has been operating commercially without permits and that bullets from the Baden property routinely fall on their land, creating a safety hazard and noise issues, 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."

Dunnigan's decision requires Baden to refrain from commercial use of the range until all permits are granted and each phase of a comprehensive site plan is approved by the county.

Many of the gun range's neighbors have also complained to the county Code Enforcement Board, which is expected to rule on alleged violations at a hearing May 8. They include using a house and barn on the property to lodge students at the gun range, and using an RV as permanent lodging without a permit.

Baden and his co-owners of the property at 38820 Taylor Road had no comment in connection with the notice of intent, according to his attorney, Edward Vogler, in his written response to the county.

Neighbor Falkner Farms, represented by attorney Roy Cohn, also had no comment.

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