Stonegate residents threaten lawsuit, in talks to close range down
Yet another legal fight is brewing over the Wesley Chapel gun range owned and operated by Dr. Michael Land.
Several residents of the Stonegate subdivision, located across New Town Road down from the Land property, 1402 Bloomsberry Lane, have hired Marvin-based law firm Walsh and deMontesquiou to get the range closed.
After being retained by residents, the firm sent out a letter to all of Stonegate asking different households to sign on to the proposed lawsuit. Union County Weekly obtained a copy of the letter, which says the law firm believes property values have decreased due to the gun range.
“It is our belief that your property values have been adversely and unduly affected by the illegal use of firearms in the proximity of your homes,” the letter reads. “The fact that your home values have gone down more than the general market decline and have become almost impossible to sell, was not an issue in the lawsuit by Wesley Chapel.”
Citizens for Safer Neighborhoods, a group of Stonegate residents led by Kathy Patterson, hired deMontesquiou and set up a questionnaire on their website. It asks residents to detail how many people live at the home and how many times they have been bothered by the sound of loud gunfire nearby. Residents were asked to note how many times on a daily, weekly or monthly basis they were bothered. Additionally, the questionnaire asks residents if they have had problems selling their homes.
Firm partner Paul deMontesquiou said this argument was different from the multiple cases in the past, which were repeatedly lost in court.
“We are going to stop him from shooting not just machine guns, but all guns under the law,” deMontesquiou said. “The old lawsuit (filed by Wesley Chapel) was confined by (their) ordinance. Under state and federal law, it’s a different ballpark.”
In May 2008, Wesley Chapel adopted an ordinance that makes firing weapons in the municipality illegal in most instances, and then ordered Land to stop shooting at the property. Land appealed to the Wesley Chapel Board of Adjustment, which ruled in the village’s favor. In 2009, Land filed an appeal asking the Union County Superior Court to review the decision. Superior Court Judge Erwin Spainhour ruled for Land, stating that, because the range was built before the village annexed the property, it’s governed by Union County’s zoning laws, not Wesley Chapel’s. In 2010, the North Carolina Court of Appeals also ruled in Land’s favor. Judge Robert Hunter Jr. wrote Land did not violate the county’s 1988 ordinance.
Land bought the 5.68-acre property in July 1991, so Union County’s 1988 zoning ordinance is in effect. That ordinance doesn’t list a shooting range as a regulated use. The 2000 version does. Wesley Chapel incorporated in 1998 and annexed Land’s property in 1999.
Focusing on machine guns
Instead of zoning, deMontesquiou focuses on the guns Land owns. According to Land’s testimony during an October 2008 deposition before the Wesley Chapel Board of Adjustment, he has an Uzi, Thompson submachine gun and three machine guns with auto sears, which convert semiautomatic weapons into automatic weapons. The Citizens for Safer Neighborhoods group is concerned about Land’s ability to fire those guns, even though the range faces away from the subdivision. They fear bullets ricocheting onto their property, some of which are less than 500 feet away from the edge of Land’s site.
They also question the legality of Land owning machine guns, as his stated reason for doing so is protection of a business. The group believes Land is in violation of state law in this case, deMontesquiou said, as they don’t believe he has a business at the home to protect.
DeMontesquiou met with Land and his wife July 28, he said, to discuss a possible settlement before filing a lawsuit. He said Land indicated he was possibly willing to stop the shooting, but nothing was agreed to at the meeting. Union County Weekly wasn’t able to confirm that, as calls to Land were not returned by press deadline.
“I’m very empathetic to Dr. Land and what he’s gone through,” deMontesquiou said. “But there are a lot of people here, some who lived here before he bought the property, who can’t get on with their lives.
“There are a lot of people that don’t even list their homes (for sale) anymore, because of disclosure laws, with the shooting range.”