BY APRIL EVANS
Georgetown aldermen approved leasing city land Monday to a group that plans to build a gun range there as soon as the weather permits.
The measure didn’t pass without controversy, with around 75 people from both sides of the argument in the crowd, some voicing those opinions. A majority of the public attending wore neon pink or yellow stickers saying they supported the gun range, which will be called the Georgetown Otto Newlin Shooting Range.
A variety of property owners from the area surrounding Oubache Park and beyond spoke out against the lease and the range.
Travis and Leslie Cox of Westville own property bordering Oubache Park on the south side, which is the direction guns on the range will face when shooting. Travis Cox said his family hunts and searches for mushrooms on his property, but that they planned to build and reside there within the next decade. Their main concern was safety, but they also were angry they weren’t notified in advance about the plans.
Oubache Park property neighbor Vicky Milewski of Mattoon said she goes to her land with family as a get-away, but now will feel the area is dangerous. Also, she said it will lose its tranquility with noise from the shooting range scaring away wildlife.
“I understand everyone wants a gun club, but I just don’t want it by my property,” Milewski said.
Resident Richard Fraser was concerned with speeding and increased traffic in the area and felt that if bordering property owners had been approached with purchasing the land, they would have done so easily.
The lease with the gun range club extends for 25 years at a cost of just $1 per year and includes access to 24 acres of Oubache Park, formerly the Sportsman’s Club. The land sits about a mile west of Georgetown’s city center, in a rural area, but surrounded by some homes and private property. The city took over the Sportsman’s Club in 1994 and operated the public pool there for a couple years, but closed it because of increasing costs. The area has not been used for around 15 years.
A number of residents who live in the Cherokee Drive area were concerned about noise from the range, while others in the audience suggested alternative spots for shooting such as the coal pits or turning the former IGA building on Illinois Route 1 into an indoor shooting range.
A few audience members also spoke in favor of the range, including Keith Walker, gun range committee member.
Walker said the group did visit homeowners on the road that leads to Oubache Park a year ago and didn’t receive objection from those residents at that time. He said only one person had recently called him to find out more about the plans, which include constructing a pistol range in the first year of the club. It will have a dirt and sand berm at the south end of the property with cement blocks surrounding it. Fifty yards to the north members will shoot from a 20-foot by 50-foot concrete slab that will be covered with a canopy.
The range will comply with National Rifle Association regulations.
There is no water or power to the area. Times and days of operation have not yet been set, but members will likely pay $100 a year. After completing a required safety course on gun handling, members will be allowed to shoot at the range without a committee member overseeing the site during operating hours.
Plans are to build a rifle range as early as next year.
There were three changes to the lease Monday before nearly all alderman approved the agreement.
Alderman Darin Readnour voted against it, with all others in favor of the measure.
Changes included increased insurance requirements for the club, from $1 million in liability to up to $3 million. Also, easement access will be granted to the city on the south side of the property near the river and up to the railroad tracks. The lease also will not include an option to buy at the end of 25 years, but instead will either be re-leased to the group, offered for sale at large or taken back by the city.
The group also must save money over time for cleanup costs in case of a dissolution of the club.
The group had to become a non-profit organization as a requirement for gaining approval and the city and the gun range committee have been working through the agreement process for a year and a half.
Alderman Adam Hart congratulated the club and said he appreciated the work done by the council and the gun range committee.
Mayor Dennis Lucas said he was surprised when he first heard opposition to the range a couple of weeks ago, but wasn’t surprised Monday. He said the audience was filled with a majority of supporters for the range, with just a handful of those who are opposed.
In the future, he said complaints about the range would be directed to the club itself.
Georgetown City Council members meet at 7 p.m. April 1 at the city hall.