Cooper: Kicking firing range down the road

Cooper: Kicking firing range down the road

November 15th, 2017 by Clint Cooper in Opinion Free Press

Moccasin Bend, including the Moccasin Bend Archeological District, is seen in this aerial photo.

Photo by John Rawlston /Times Free Press.

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Several times a day, cars pass up and down Dogwood Lane on the way in or out of the one-lane, two-home, dead-end street on Moccasin Bend. Not far away, many more cars drive up and down Moccasin Bend Road to go to Moccasin Bend Golf Course, Moccasin Bend Mental Health Institute or the Moccasin Bend National Archeological District.

Despite that existing traffic, the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Commission turned down Monday a request by a Dogwood Lane property owner to erect a nine-unit bed and breakfast, plus other dwellings, on his 20-acre tract. The reason given was the land's proximity to the 33-acre law enforcement firing range 1 mile away.

With knowledge of the coming Moccasin Bend National Park, property owner Stephen Holmen wanted to be strategically located. His property already was zoned residential, which allows him to put townhouses or duplexes on the ridge-top property. But he had his eye on a higher and better use. Since there are already residents on the street who have been within nearly the same proximity to the firing range, it is curious why commissioners would be more worried about tourists.

After all, they can be given warnings where they can and where they cannot go to be on park property. And the presence of a firing range should make them less interested in venturing out of current park boundaries in the first place.

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But beyond what we believe is the planning commission's overly defensive ruling on the property is the lack of action on relocating the firing range.

For more than a decade, the range property has been promised to the archaelogical district in anticipation of the eventual national park. Plans for an indoor firing range on 12th Street were announced in 2013 but scuttled a year later when a lack of action drove the price higher. Then a task force was appointed in 2015 to find a suitable new area for the firing range and report back, but a year later said only it was getting close to handing off its work to a second subcommittee.

In the meantime, less than two months ago, a general management plan for the district received final approval. It features a visitor center at the gateway site, which extends about as close to the shooting range as the Dogwood Lane site, along with trail signs, recreational opportunities and improved access to the parcels of land that currently constitute the district.

Officials at the time said planning work could begin immediately and that the design work and installation of signs would continue over a year and a half as efforts continued to move the firing range.

However, Chattanooga Police Chief David Roddy told the planning commission Monday it could be "a couple of years out" before suitable property or funding is found.

We believe this effort needs to pick up the pace. As lovely as the site as been for law enforcement agencies and their families, it now has a higher use as part of the park. We urge city, county and law enforcement officials to treat this park impediment with more urgency and not continue to kick it down the road.

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