At the end of a seven-hour meeting that dragged into early Tuesday, the Clovis Planning Commission brokered a six-month truce between the owner of an indoor gun range and nearby residents unhappy over the noise reaching their quiet neighborhood.
Commissioners voted unanimously to give Jacob Belemjian, the owner of The Firing Line, 180 days to reduce gunfire noise.
The commission's decision at 12:40 a.m. ended an acrimonious fight between Belemjian and his neighbors and quelled talks of potential lawsuits by neighbors or Belemjian against the city.
"This is the Clovis way of life," said Chairman Vong Mouanoutoua, who noted that Belemjian, his supporters and the neighbors all agreed to work with city staff to find a solution.
The recommendation now goes to the City Council, which has the final say over whether to modify Belemjian's conditional use permit, revoke it or let him continue to operate while he tries to fix the noise problem. The City Council will take up the issue on March 18.
Hours after the vote, city officials said a key point coming from the marathon hearing was Belemjian's admission that he could have done a better job of lessening the gunfire noise.
Much of the noise is coming through two large, metal roll-up doors, Belemjian told the commission. He said his first task will be to seal one door and better sound-proof the other.
Belemjian also agreed to accept help from Fred Armijo, a carpenter who owns a home near the firing range. Armijo told the commission that when the gun range opened a year ago, he offered to help Belemjian, but his offer was ignored.
"He's not being a good neighbor," Armijo told commissioners.
But once the commission proposed working together, Armijo said he would gladly help Belemjian. "We all want him to succeed," Armijo said. "We just don't like the noise."
The feel-good ending didn't start that way.
On Monday night, an overflow crowd of more than 100 people packed City Hall to debate the merits of a gun range operating next to homes.
The special hearing was supposed to be the first step in determining whether Belemjian's operating permit should be revoked or modified for disturbing the peace.
A majority of the gathering wore bright green T-shirts that read "Support The Firing Range." But when Lori Weaver-Hill, who owns a home near the gun range, asked them if they lived near the gun range, only one or two of them raised their hands.
"Gunshots are gunshots," she told the gathering. "Respect our neighborhood."
Belemjian was annoyed by the process. He said it wasn't his fault his neighbors purchased their homes next to an industrial area. He also said he has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars making a safe range with respectable noise levels.
He said he felt like "Jake the trick dog who has jumped through every hoop the city has put in front of him."
The Clovis City Council approved Belemjian's operating permit in November 2011 on a 4-1 vote over the objections of neighbors who signed a petition. Council Member Lynn Ashbeck cast the lone "no" vote.
But once it opened last March, the gun range at 1173 Dayton Ave. has been at the center of a fight over property rights.
Open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday, The Firing Line was built inside a metal building that originally housed a cabinet shop. The business has about 1,000 members who pay monthly or yearly dues to shoot, Belemjian said.
Because the gun range is in a light industrial park, Belemjian's permit allows him to operate as long as decibel levels don't exceed an average of 65 decibels over a 24-hour period. A staff report said he was within the 65-decibel requirement.
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