Posted by: Patricia Salkin | September 24, 2010

North Carolina Appeals Court Finds Private Shooting Range in Residential District is Entitled to Nonconforming Use Status

In 1991, the petitioner, Michael Land, set up a shooting range on his private property in the Village, which he supervises and limits to only family and friends. However, in 2000, the respondent, the Village of Wesley Chapel, enacted a land use ordinance that did not authorize shooting ranges within residential district. The Village Planning and Zoning Administrator then informed Dr. Land that his gun range violated the ordinance. One year later, Dr. Land was delivered a cease-and-desist order banning the use of the shooting range. Dr. Land countered, contending that his land was only subject to the 1988 Village Ordinance, and under that law, the shooting range qualified as a “privately-owned outdoor recreational facility.” The Village disagreed, stating that even if the shooting range was lawful under the 1988 ordinance, the range had been “materially altered” in 2007 and, therefore, did not qualify as a non-conforming use of the property. Dr. Land appealed to the Board of Adjustment, who upheld the decision of the Planning and Zoning Administrator.

Dr. Land then filed a petition for writ of certiorari to the superior court, which reversed the decision. Respondents then appealed the Court of Appeals of North Carolina. The Court ruled that Dr. Land complied with the 1988 Zoning Ordinance in that the 1988 Ordinance did not expressly ban target ranges, nor is it considered a “privately owned outdoor recreational facility” as defined in the Ordinance. The Court maintained that this overly board approach “leaves the landowners exposed to the arbitrary and capricious whims of zoning authorities.” The Court also held that Dr. Land did not “materially alter” his property, thereby subjecting it to the Ordinance.  Reiterating the argument of the superior court, it stated that Dr. Land’s alterations did not come close to the fifty percent portion of property that must be altered to typically trigger that “material alteration” argument.  Therefore, the Court held that Dr. Land’s property had been grandfathered in under the Village of Wesley Chapel’s zoning ordinance and, therefore, the shooting range was not unlawful under the Zoning Ordinance.

Land v. Village of Wesley Chapel, 2010 WL 3001893 (N.C.App. 8/3/2010)

The opinion can be accessed at:

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