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BZA rejects gun business in Jackson Township subdivision

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By JEFF SCHULTZ

Opposition from Jackson Heights subdivision residents helped fuel a 4-1 vote by the Porter County Board of Zoning Appeals Wednesday to reject a request by a resident wishing to run a business selling firearms at discount prices to law enforcement officers and personal acquaintances from his home at 494 Whitewood Drive.

Dissenting against a motion to deny was BZA member Marvin Brickner.

The applicant, Kenneth Price, told the board he has operated a successful camouflage wear company for the past eight years, which he started while serving in the U.S. military where for a time he was an equipment and arms expert. He saw an opportunity to do more business with his background and sought a use variance to sell the weapons in a rural residential zoning district. As with his camouflage wear business, most of the dealing will be done on the internet.

Price told the board he would not be a “bona-fide weapons dealer” to civilians since federal law restricts who you can sell a gun to. He also said that he would not be selling ammunition and squashed neighbors’ speculations that he would open a firing range in his backyard.

“Let’s be realistic, that won’t happen,” he said. He also said he would not be using any signs or storefront to mark his business.

Price presented the board a letter dated June 19 from Porter County Sheriff David Lain and PCSP Chief Steve Lawrence who asserted that Price is an “honorable and honest individual” and endorsed his endeavor.

Price said he does not yet have, but is applying for, a Federal Firearms License (FFL) needed for selling guns and later mentioned that having approval from the County is one of the requirements in obtaining it.

More than 30 neighbors and supporters signed in to speak for the public hearing portion, part of a large crowd that packed the County Chambers on Wednesday.

Neighbors’ attorney speaks

First on the list to speak was Valparaiso attorney Brian Hurley, of Douglas, Koeppen & Hurley, who was hired by neighbors in Jackson Heights to represent them.

Hurley said that in order to be permitted a use variance, Indiana law states that a petitioner must show evidence that the use granted will not have a negative effect on the health, safety and general welfare of the community, that the use will not adversely affect the property values of neighboring parcels, and that not granting the variance would result in hardship for the petitioner.

“These things have to be found,” he said.

Hurley said he doubts there is a hardship since the business is located in his home. He also questioned safety since firearms would be the product of sale and there is a group home for developmentally disabled persons located in the northern portion of Jackson Heights on a cul-de-sac.

He also said there is a concern from the neighbors of increased traffic, given the fact that there is only one entrance/exit to the subdivision off County Road 900 North.

Lastly, Hurley said that the covenant for Jackson Heights subdivision states the developers’ intention that the community be used for residential purposes only and this is the covenant that every resident has agreed to.

“There can be no business going on in a residential area,” he said.

No business here, please

Most Jackson Heights residents said they appreciated and admired Price for his service in the military and many like Joan Sosbe were “not opposed to guns” but were upset by the idea of a business operating in their subdivision.

Sosbe said she was concerned over the growth and traffic a business would bring posing a danger to children playing in the roads and the tranquility of the neighborhood, which has been a selling point for residents that move Jackson Heights.

“We want to do everything we can to stay there. Safety is an issue,” she said.

Neighbor Michael Beverly said that if Price wanted to run a business then he should consider other options instead of a rural residential neighborhood.

Meanwhile, Diane Silvonek said she received a letter that Price sent to select neighbors letting them know he plans to hold gun safety demonstrations once a month. She said she did not want the business to be in a single-family residential neighborhood.

Neighbors Matt Keane, Brooke Sutter, Dean Vanderwoude, Brent Walker and Kim Olson all dittoed comments opposing a business in the neighborhood and that they want to preserve the peace and quiet they highly value.

“For me it’s just black and white. It’s a residential area,” said Sutter.

In favor

An associate with Price’s current business, Westchester Twp. resident John Bridegroom assured the concerned neighbors in the audience that “safety is a paramount concern of (Price’s)” and that the firearms would only be a “small percentage” of the business.

“He will continue serving the community by servicing the law enforcement that protects those communities,” Bridegroom said.

FFL licenses have strict regulations and background checks, Bridegroom continued, that Price will honor and comply with.

“The danger is almost non-existent and the benefit is huge,” he said.

Jackson Twp. resident Dan Spears said he knows Price from having taught Valparaiso High School as an “outstanding individual” and supported his desire for starting a firearm business.

Another Jackson Twp. resident Wendy Smith who lives south of Price said she has known him for 30 years as an “outstanding member of the community” and knows that he is applying for a variance because he wants to do it right.

Also speaking were Price’s mother and step-father saying operating a small business has been a lifelong goal of his. “He is doing it in the right way,” they said.

Jackson Heights resident Walter Smith said that there has been a lot of confusion from some of the neighbors that has created many rumors that are not necessarily true and the neighbors should have gone to Priced directly with questions.

“I think a lot of people are misled in what Ken’s trying to do,” he said.

Echoing some of Smith’s comments, neighbor Daniel Konarski said he believes the firearms issue “got a little carried away” and that not being able to sell the weapons “will hurt his business.”

He said the group home is a business with employees and that “is in our subdivision already.”

Price’s wife Rebecca Price said she knows of at least four other residents in Jackson Heights who have for-profit businesses in their homes.

“We’re just trying to get our business (started) the right way,” she said.

Price’s turn

Replying to remonstrators, Price said he grew up in Jackson Twp. and that is why he bought his residence in Jackson Heights where he has lived since 2009.

He restated he would only be selling firearms to police and family and friends which would not affect traffic.

He said he did send a letter letting neighbors letting them know about the safety demonstrations because safety is important to him.

“What I am doing isn’t hurting anybody,” he said.

Price said he did want to grow his business and someday move it to an area where it would fit the zoning requirements.

Board moves to deny

Siding with earlier comments by the attorney, BZA member Tim Cole said the covenants “speak for themselves” and simply do not allow for businesses.

Member Rick Burns said this matter is “more than just a small business in a home” and that he saw no hardship as required for the use variance.

Burns was also concerned that Price did not have a variance for his camouflage wear business.

Brickner expressed support after conferring with Price about the strict regulations of an FFL license and learning that federal agents could revoke it at any time.

When the issue was put to a vote to deny, Brickner was the lone “no” vote.

Voting to deny were Cole, Burns, Michael Young and president Debbie Kerr-Cook.

 

 

Posted 6/20/2013