Originally appearing at buglenewspapers.com on Tuesday, June 24, 2014
By Alex V. Hernandez | Staff Reporter | @TheAVHernandez
A proposed gun range’s permit went back to committee after opponents complained it would open too close to area schools.
“This came to this board from the zoning board of appeals,” said Mayor Andrew Przybylo. “Many of you didn’t know about the [zoning] hearing…and I guess it wasn’t fair because you have concerns.”
He said that because of this, the trustees chose to refer Sportsman’s Club and Firearms Training Academy’s permit request back to the zoning commission in order to get public feedback before the issue returns to trustees for a vote sometime in July.
“Honestly, there was no [public] testimony at the meeting that the zoning board had on this issue,” said Przybylo. “There was no talk of the schools. This is all brand new.”
Niles Zoning Chairman Thomas Kanelos said he was also surprised by the news vans parked outside, reporting on the huge public turnout, when he arrived at the June 24 meeting.
“I had a real hard time finding parking when I got here,” he said.
Sportsman’s proposed layout would feature an 11,800 square foot firing range and 2,500 square feet of retail space. As The Bugle previously reported, the range would also feature secure gun storage, gun classes and it’s owners said they would eventually try and solicit individual shooters and organizations, like Olympic rifle shooting clubs, to come and use their facility.
Sportsman’s partners had experienced relatively smooth sailing at the village’s previous zoning meeting. However, that forward momentum came to a grinding halt at the June 24 meeting, when over 50 people from both sides of the gun debate gave passionate, and sometimes confrontational, public commentary to village officials and each other.
Those in favor of Sportsman’s carried signs that said “Vote Yes” while the facility’s opponents wore green ribbons in honor of the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.
Click above for audio of from the June 24 meeting. Warning: explicit language. / MULTIMEDIA BY ALEX V. HERNANDEZ
“I was on my way to a soccer game that was canceled because of the rain,” said Niles resident Kim Conenna. She was standing outside the village hall with her teenage son, an incoming freshman at Niles West High School who was dressed in a soccer uniform.
She said her mother told her about the gun facility the village was considering. She decided to give officials her opinion at the meeting since her son’s soccer game was canceled.
“It doesn’t belong near a school,” she said, before being interrupted by a man holding one of the “Vote Yes” signs and who later would only give his name as Larry. He told Conenna her anti-gun opinions would “make her kid into a little sissy.”
“When was the last time that a shooting happened in Illinois in a school? When?,” yelled Larry. “You really think someone’s going to go buy a gun and then shoot kids? Get your head out of your [expletive]!”
Conenna angrily responded that as a nurse, she’s familiar with the kind of violence guns can cause and told him he was entitled to his opinion just as she was entitled to hers.
The complaints arose because Sportsman’s proposed address, 6143 W. Howard St., is about a mile southwest of Niles West and about 350 yards east of New Hope Academy. New Hope is a therapeutic school that serves students with emotional disabilities and other issues.
New Hope’s Executive Director Brandy Larrance said her school’s administration is opposed to Sportsman’s.
“NewHope is located less than a quarter mile from this proposed site,” said Larrance. She also said she and New Hope staff planned on attending the village’s next zoning commission meeting regarding Sportsman’s future.
Moreover, Niles Township High School District 219 Superintendent Nanciann Gatta said parents had been calling her district, complaining that Sportsman’s proposed location to the two schools was too close for comfort.
“I do understand that concealed carry is the law of the land and we can’t change that. And providing [firearms] training is a good idea,” said Gatta. “And as a public taxing body I understand and appreciate how important it is for the Village of Niles to attract new businesses and to generate revenue. I simply think that this is not the right business and it’s in the wrong location.”
Myles P. Cunningham Jr., Sportsman’s president, and James Oraha, Sportsman’s vice president, are the owners of Chicago based Level Builders, a company whose resume includes Bucktown’s Goorin Bros and River North’s Kinzie Chophouse.
Oraha previously told The Bugle that he and his partners have been working on opening the gun range and store for the past five years. Additionally, Cunningham and his partners also said they anticipated spending between $4.5 and $7 million building the facility, with the goal of it becoming one of the best ranges in the Midwest.
“We’re not going to stop here if something happens and we can’t get this approved,” said Cunningham, during the June 2 meeting of the Niles zoning commission. Cunningham told commissioners that if the permit was not approved by Niles he and his partners have also looked at locations in neighboring Skokie and Morton Grove.
Oraha told The Bugle after the June 24 meeting that the gun range’s location was chosen because the property is in a zoned industrial, manufacturing area and the range’s blueprints and safety measure go above and beyond state and local regulations.
He said he was also surprised by the public outcry at the trustee meeting because no one from the public had opposed the permit application at the pervious zoning meeting.
“We’re pushing forward and we’re staying positive. I can’t speak for my partner, but we don’t want to rule out Niles just yet,” said Oraha. “We’re still hoping for the best and I’m looking forward to the next zoning board meeting.”
The village’s next zoning commission meeting is July 7 and the permit request is expected to reappear before Niles trustees for a vote sometime in July.