Market valuations for more than a dozen properties near a Noonday rifle and pistol range were reduced 30 percent, more than $850,000, Friday by a Smith County Appraisal District review board.
The potential breadth of the range's impact on property values is unknown, Barnett said. Barnett based his initial consideration was on properties within 2,000 feet of the range. However, Barnett acknowledged Friday that the scope of protests will extend beyond that distance.
“Whether it's 2,200 feet or two miles, I can't say right now,” he said. “There are a lot of factors that will be considered before we can make that determination.”
Barnett said there could be a “major” impact to the Smith County tax roll if commercial properties along Texas Highway 155 are determined to be negatively affected by the range.
Homes clearly impacted by safety concerns, such as stray bullets, and noise will likely see further reductions, Barnett said. He said throughout the year appraisers will visit the area to investigate circumstantial factors including decibel levels from gunfire at specific properties and each property's location with regard to the range.
Firearm ballistics and bullet trajectories will also be a consideration, he said.
“Those folks who are downrange, you have a lot of exposure. Great exposure to noise and safety concerns will impact those more than homes further away and with less likelihood of a stray bullet,” Barnett said.
Jerry Hannah, the developer of Summer Hill Circle subdivision on CR 1108, owns five lots and a home within the development that sits 300 yards west, adjacent to the range, said its opening in January will significantly reduce property marketability in a growing area. Home values within Summer Hill Circle range from $250,000 and $400,000.
“If you wanted to buy a home or lot would you buy there?” he asked.
Johnny Wanger, a Summer Hill resident, called his property “essentially worthless” based on his ability to get value for his home. He said the appraisal district's 30 percent reduction was acceptable given the circumstances but expects future adjustments.
“I would much rather be paying full taxes and not have to deal with the gun range,” he said.
WORRIES OF RESIDENTS
Residents accepted the 30 percent reduction but a few expressed concerns regarding safety and noise to the board.
Sarah Ball, the wife of David Ball, who was featured in the previous Tyler Morning Telegraph story, and lives 700 feet downrange, northeast and of the rifle range, read a letter from her husband to the review board concerning the range.
“We moved to the property for tranquility. On weekends you can hear repetitive semi-automatic rifle fire until late in the evening,” Ball wrote. “My wife is often quoted as saying, ‘It sounds like a war zone here.'”
The letter continued, “We would not have considered buying the property if we had known that a dangerously designed and inadequately operated gun range would be located so closely to our property,” Ball wrote. “My nine year old daughter has asked me ‘Daddy, am I going to get shot?”
“It is like a war zone,” Mrs. Ball said in an interview after the hearing.
In the letter, Ball said he contacted the Smith County District Attorney's office regarding possible legal challenges to the range's ability to operate.
But in Texas, civil and even criminal law sides with gun range owners.
“A government official may not seek civil or criminal penalty against sport shooting ranges, businesses, private clubs or associations operating in an area where firearms can be used for recreational, target or self-defense, if no applicable noise ordinances, order or rules exist,” according to Texas Local Government Code.
Cities typically regulate noise within its limits but the range lies within the unincorporated area of the county, outside city jurisdictions, where regulation is very limited.
Ball challenged another provision concerning gun ranges within the Texas State Health and Safety Code. The provision states “the gun range owner is to construct and maintain the range according to standards that are at least as stringent as the standards printed in the National Rifle Association Range Manual.”
District Attorney Matt Bingham acknowledged that attorneys representing the Ball's have filed a memorandum regarding the provision with his office. The memo is based on a third-party assessment of the range indicating it does not meet NRA standards.
However, Bingham said, a Texas Attorney General's opinion regarding the Health and Safety Code statute determined it was “an invalid attempt to confer legislative authority on a private entity in contravention of article III, section 1 of the Texas Constitution” and therefore unconstitutional.
“We're looking to see if it is even something we even have authority to get involved in,” Bingham said. “It's not clear cut.”
Even if the district attorney becomes involved, he said, there are limitations to civil penalties that could be assessed the range owners. The maximum penalty for non-compliance by the range is $50 per day and would not exceed $500, by state law.
Don Layton, co-owner of High Noon, said he doesn't blame the residents for seeking property tax reductions. He said rural shooting, whether target practice or hunting, occurred at-or-near the site for more than 30 years before the range opened. He stands by his rights and the law.
“We're legal,” he said. “We haven't done anything wrong.”
25.25 (d) Motion to Correct Appraised Value forms can be found on the Smith County Appraisal District Web site at smithcad.org. For other information regarding appraisal protests concerning the gun range call the district at 903-510-8600.