By Susan Vela
BELVIDERE — Chris Linenfelser didn't want Biglinny Firearms to be "a good ol' boy gun shop" when he opened the store in August.
He wanted an indoor shooting range to be part of his $1.2 million investment at 485 Southtowne Drive.
He is requesting a special-use permit to build and operate a 4,300-square-foot range with six 75-foot-long lanes behind Biglinny Firearms.
It could be the first shooting range in the city when it opens around the July Fourth holiday.
The City Council is scheduled to consider Linenfelser's request at its meeting at 7 p.m. on Monday.
"Sales have been really good," he said. "We just had a lot of people come in saying they'd love to see a range. We started putting numbers together, and there's no reason really to wait.
"To know that many people are walking around carrying weapons and there's no place to practice scares me."
Some aldermen say they're prepared to approve the permit despite concerns about noise among some residents.
"I used to shoot in them all the time," said Alderman Ronald Brooks of the 4th Ward. "As long as it's a business and they comply with regulations ... I have no problems. I'll probably vote for it. They're safe ... a lot safer than having a fellow go into the woods and shoot away with a gun."
Third Ward Alderman Wendy Frank also said she was likely to vote to approve the permit. Linenfelser has promised to use materials that would muffle the sounds of firearms.
"We don't have anything like that," she said. "If they've done all the provisions to keep it safe for the neighborhood ... it would be a good thing. We've got to promote businesses in Belvidere."
Earlier this month, the Belvidere Planning and Zoning Commission voted 5-0 to recommend approval of the special-use permit with the following conditions:
— Hours of operation are 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
— There is a six-lane limit.
— All shooting range activities happen indoors.
— Materials for exterior renovations match existing building materials.
— A seven-foot wooden privacy fence is installed between Biglinny Firearms and the Southtowne residential neighborhood.
Community Development Planner Gina DelRose said a federal appeals court had held in a 2011 decision — Ezell v. City of Chicago — that municipalities could not bar commercial shooting ranges. Because of the ruling, Belvidere city officials amended a zoning ordinance to allow shooting ranges in industrial districts, she said.
They'll vote on permitting them in Belvidere's planned and general business districts — with special-use permits — the same evening they'll also consider Biglinny Firearms' special-use permit request.
"With the increase in gun ownership, the demand for shooting ranges increases as well," DelRose said.
Some residents still have concerns.
"The proposed use will detrimentally impact the environment, resulting in increased noise, increased traffic, (a potential) environmental impact as well as a detriment to the surrounding properties," wrote attorney Stephen Daday, who represents the Southtowne Village Condominium Association, in documents submitted to city officials. "It is inconsistent with the residential use of the surrounding neighborhood."
Then there are the gun enthusiasts hankering for a new place to take classes and shoot their weapons.
Chris Gaddis drops by Biglinny Firearms whenever he sees the lights are on. He lives a few blocks away.
"I decided that this was going to be my new favorite place to be in town," he said. "Chris and his wife, Michelle, are the most honest, trusting, most friendly people I've ever met in my life."
His favorite shooting range is in Dundee, about 30 minutes away. Gaddis hopes council members grant Linenfelser a special-use permit so he can save gas money.
"We need a place to shoot where it's safe," he said. "Gun safety is what gun ownership is all about."