CALDWELL — The Canyon County Planning and Zoning Commission tabled on Thursday a conditional use permit application for a shooting range in Parma and approved a conditional use permit for a personal airstrip and helicopter landing strip in Caldwell.
The public meeting room at the Canyon County Administration building was packed with residents who testified for and against both applications.
Jerry Payne, a farmer from Parma, hopes to open a new shooting range, also described as a game bird preserve, located on Fountain Road in Parma.
The reserve would be more than 160 acres and would operate annually between October and March. The application stated Payne would operate seven days a week between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. The land would be used to hunt planted pheasants and chukars.
Alan Mills, from Middleton, said he was sent to the meeting to represent Payne but felt the application should be tabled due to changes to the original plan. There were still “issues that needed to be rehashed,” he said.
The commission heard what the current plan is, let residents testify during the meeting and agreed to make a decision at a future meeting.
Mills said there is a need among Canyon County hunting enthusiasts to have more local shooting and hunting range opportunities.
“There is a great chance to bring something like this to Canyon County,” Mills said.
One of the issues with the original plan is the proposed times of operation. Mills said Payne was also willing to shorten the hours that were presented on the conditional use permit.
Another change in the plan would be altering the shot gun cartridge size and length of shells that can be used.
Mills said the game preserve would hold as many as four to 14 hunters each day. When questioned about hunter safety, Mills said hunters wouldn’t be allowed on the land until they attended an orientation meeting regarding the landscape and hunting safety.
Mills said Payne will purchase complete liability insurance, and every hunter will be required to sign a waiver before entering the shooting range in case of a hunting accident.
Payne is not planning to raise the planted birds but will instead buy the birds for his land. Payne would plant the birds onto the land before each hunt every day.
“Not everyone is a perfect shot,” commissioner David Scheurer said. “How will we keep these birds from escaping?”
Mills said escaped, tamed birds have a low chance of survival, but the Idaho Department of Fish and Game said escaped birds could help the local wildlife.
The Idaho Department of Fish and Game wrote a letter to the commission regarding Payne’s plan. Although the department believed the plan was well thought out, it believes there are some revisions that need to be made. The department recommended a fence be built around the 167-acre lot to keep hunters and their hunting dogs within the boundaries.
“Staff is recommending the game preserve,” the letter stated. “We believe there is a need and a want in the community.”
Chelle Robins, from Parma, testified against the range.
“Over 14 shots a day, eight hours a day is a lot,” Robins said.
She said many people who support the hunting range do not live within Parma or around the area and would not be affected by the byproducts of the shooting range.
“We’re not opposed to hunting,” she said. “But it’s very different when it’s a commercial hunting ground in your backyard.”
Others who testified had concerns about the litter and environmental issues a shooting range would bring, including shot gun shells, gun powder and lead contamination in the soil.
“We have the right to a safe home, property and to our health,” said Mechelle Cossairt-Gahley, a resident of Parma.
The commission tabled its decision until Jan. 21 and said public testimony will be reopened then.
Another conditional use permit application was submitted by Dave Weitz and Jesse Prather, who hope to build a private airstrip and helicopter pad along Apricot Lane in Caldwell. The project is estimated at 167 acres.
According to the application, Weitz and Prather plan to exceed the county’s recommended number of three take offs and landings per day.
“They intend to have the helipad adjacent to their home along with the airstrip,” the application stated.
The airstrip is expected to be 150 feet long.
Neighbors said they are concerned about safety of nearby livestock and noise caused by planes and helicopters landing and taking off.
Over 10 people, including Weitz, chose to testify for and against the airstrip.
“This has been a three-year search for me to find the appropriate piece of property,” Weitz said.
Weitz said the airstrip would be available to others in case of an emergency, in accordance with the FAA.
Weitz reiterated the airstrip would be for private use among his family, friends and himself.
“It’s not for commercial, there’s no (agricultural) planes because it’s by my house,” he said.
James Mertz, who lives on Apricot Lane, said he supports the idea and believes it poses no problems for his property or nearby fruit orchards.
Michael McGarvin, who owns Wizard Renovations in Wilder, said Weitz is willing to listen to his neighbors’ concerns and would be willing to let them use his airplane if needed.
“There won’t be many planes but just his one plane,” McGarvin said.
Residents who testified against the air strip stated the inconvenience of having planes or helicopters near their residences and risk to farm animals are things they don’t wish to deal with.
“We’re looking down the barrel of the gun,” said James Caniston of Caldwell. “From the sound of it, this is not going to be just a family airstrip. It sounds like we are putting in a full airstrip for all weather, all year.”
Caniston said there is too big of a chance of Weitz expanding the conditional use permit in the future.
Angela Elordi said her home is in the direct path of the airstrip, a shorter distance than the landing strip itself.
“I know the airplane is supposed to be very quiet, but that’s not that big of a distance,” Elordi said.
One neighbor is afraid the planes and helicopters will leave fuel spills and leaks in the soil. The placement of the airstrip is located near ground wells used by the neighbors and the Snake River.
Leanne Ferguson, a neighbor, said from her experience, airplane enthusiasts end up growing their airplane collection.
Weitz said there won’t be an excessive number of aircraft.
“I have no intentions of flying over anyone’s home,” he said.
The commissioners voted in favor of the project with the exception that if Weitz sells the land, the permit could not be transferred to another land owner.