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The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation’s plan to build a musket range near the Historic Area hit the mark with the Williamsburg Planning Commission.
The planners voted 4-0 to recommend approval of the proposal to the Williamsburg City Council. Commission members Andrew Edwards and Jeffrey Klee abstained from the vote due to their employment with Colonial Williamsburg.
The proposal calls for the construction of a live-fire musket range at a 46-acre wooded area at 640 South England Street. The range would allow visitors to Colonial Williamsburg the chance to fire authentic and replica 18th-century firearms, including the brown bess rifle and blunderbuss, under the guidance of licensed instructors.
The plan received a positive response from the Planning Commission.
“I think it’s a terrific idea,” Planning Commission Chairman Demetrios Florakis said. “It’s more out-of-the-box thinking from Colonial Williamsburg.”
The Williamsburg Architectural Review Board, which reviewed the musket range site plan at its meeting Tuesday night, offered similarly warm reviews.
Colonial Williamsburg has presented the musket range plan as a way to create excitement for the living history museum, which has seen declining attendance in recent years. Foundation President Mitchell Reiss laid out the initial idea in a breakfast with community leaders in May. In his remarks, Reiss outlined plans for the musket range and a petting farm to be constructed near Duke of Gloucester Street.
More details about the musket range have been released over the last two months, including a site plan, which the Planning Commission reviewed Wednesday.
The range will be located in a wooded area on the west side of South England Street near the Golden Horseshoe golf club. It will feature a wooden shooting gallery and six targets for guests, a small shed for storage purposes and a small vehicle turning area.
The pole-supported shooting gallery would consist of an existing structure located at the current site of the Market House on Duke of Gloucester Street, and would be transported for use at the new site.
The shed would be used to store range supplies, including gunpowder, during the range’s hours of operations, but would not be used for overnight storage.
The range will be surrounded on either side by a 10-foot tall earthworks known as a berm. A 20-foot tall berm will be located behind the targets.
A chain link fence would surround the site, and a wooden fence would replace the chain link in the areas visible from South Henry Street.
Guests would be transported to the range by a shuttle bus picking up at the Williamsburg Lodge. Guest parking would not be allowed at the range or along South England Street.
Range patrons would learn about the history of the Revolutionary-era firearms from certified professionals who would also be Colonial Williamsburg interpreters, and would be able to fire the weapons under the guidance of the instructors. One instructor would be assigned to every two guests.
Colonial Williamsburg’s interim Vice President of Operations Robert Underwood said the Foundation planned on having the range operate from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. He also said the range could be closed to visitors during the traditionally slow visitations months of January, February and March.
While the proposal met with favorable reviews, one Planning Commission member and one resident voiced concerns over the potential noise produced by the range.
South Henry Street resident Kathy Hornsby said the potential for noise pollution concerned her, but said Colonial Williamsburg had done a good job addressing the concerns of residents on the issue.
Colonial Williamsburg conducted an acoustic test of the range as part of the approval process with the city. Muskets were fired at the proposed range and noise levels were taken at four locations near the firing site. The loudest result — 67 decibels — was recorded at the site nearest the range site, a location on the green course at Golden Horseshoe. A study by Purdue University equated a reading of 60 decibels as a conversation in a restaurant or office.
The shots did not register above 60 decibels at any of the other three test sites, and were completely inaudible at one.
The berms, which can dampen sound as well as increase range safety, were not included in the original site plan submitted by Colonial Williamsburg, and Planning Commission member Elaine McBeth said the city had been right to take a cautious approach to the plan.
The plan requires four ordinance changes to be enacted by the City Council for final approval, including the rezoning of the proposed site and the editing of the city’s comprehensive plan to allow shooting ranges for eighteenth century firearms with a special use permit.
The City Council will likely consider those changes at its August meeting. The Planning Commission must also approve a final draft of the site plan for the range. A date for that consideration has not yet been set.