Albemarle County approves new police training facility despite neighborhood opposition

Albemarle County resident Virginia Coleman has owned 600 acres next to the Keene landfill since 1976, and is concerned that the new police shooting range will disrupt her cattle. Photo: John Robinson Albemarle County resident Virginia Coleman has owned 600 acres next to the Keene landfill since 1976, and is concerned that the new police shooting range will disrupt her cattle. Photo: John Robinson

The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors approved a controversial plan last week to build a police training facility and firing range in a quiet corner of Albemarle. Officials agreed to construct the center at the site of the 169-acre, county-owned Keene landfill off Route 704, despite loud and lengthy arguments against it from neighbors. Rural county residents agreed that police and other public safety officials should have access to the best training possible, but they aren’t pleased about the new training facility coming to their neck of the woods.

“Every day we delay is another day we’re providing less than average training for the men and women who are charged with protecting our community,” Albemarle County Police Chief Steve Sellers told the Board, adding that it’s his responsibility to ensure his officers’ safety every day, and “getting our law enforcement officers above the minimum level of firearms proficiency is critical.”

At last week’s meeting, Sellers and Charlottesville’s Police Chief Tim Longo gave a presentation to the Board and answered question about the range’s location and appearance. The center, located centrally on the property, will consist of three outdoor shooting ranges enclosed on three sides by 20′ high walls built into the earth, a classroom building, a small sheltered area, and a vault toilet. The firearms range will be the first phase of the project, with future endeavors including a burn building, more classrooms, and a drivers’ training track.

Virginia Coleman doesn’t question the area’s need for police training, but as an Albemarle County resident who owns cattle and 600 acres of land next to the Keene landfill, she and her family think the police department and the Board of Supervisors could find a less disruptive place to put the new facility.

“It’s just going to change our way of life entirely,” she said.

If officers are training close by, responding to emergency situations in the city or county will be easier and more efficient than traveling an hour and a half, Sellers said. The police currently receive training one day a year at the Rivanna Rifle & Pistol Club, and Sellers said a new facility would allow officers to participate in about three days of intensive training each year. Having control over the operations and scheduling of a facility would allow police, firefighters, and rescue squads more flexibility, and Sellers added that eventually the space could be rented to outside groups to bring in a little revenue.

Coleman, a member of Save Rural Albemarle and one of many to speak out against the firing range, is a fourth-generation cattle rancher who has lived in the county since 1976. She fears the noise pollution and environmental impacts will prevent her and her family from keeping their cattle and horses quiet and calm, which she said is essential in the breeding business. She said she heard a number of invalid arguments at last Wednesday’s meeting, including the assumption that gunshots are no louder than tractors, leaf-blowers, or other noisy farm sounds.

“The difference is, those are constant noises that the animals get accustomed to,” Coleman said. “But the staccato of shootings is not that way. I don’t want my animals to get spooked.”

Coleman said she wished the Board would consider other options, like the old tire plant in Scottsville, but Supervisors and the police departments agreed it was too expensive. The discussion ended in a 5-0 vote and the decision to move the project forward. Supervisor Chris Dumler abstained, and said he will not vote on any matter involving the police in order to avoid conflict of interest in light of his recent forcible sodomy charge.

“I’m really disappointed in the Board of Supervisors. They want what they want, and they will bend their own rules to have it,” Coleman said. “But if the rest of us need a little assistance or want to bend something, it isn’t going to happen.”

Supervisor Ken Boyd said he empathizes with the neighbors, and that the police department is doing all it can to work closely with them to mitigate any concerns they have.

“This is not something you’d want in a highly populated area,” he said. “Also, it’s a property we already owned, which will save taxpayers a lot of money.”

Development in the rural areas is a regular topic of debate, and Boyd said this situation in no way sets a precedent for future projects, nor did the Board make any exceptions.

“We didn’t loosen any of the rules or processes that you need to go through in order to build this facility here,” he said.

Boyd said the police department will continue the dialogue with rural county residents, and now that the project has been approved, it will not likely make its way onto a Board of Supervisors agenda again.

  • Disgusted

    The comments from Boyd are flat out lies. They bent every rule in the book, including just this last week, when they publicized the BOS agenda that the public hearing on this would be Wed. Nov at 6pm when most of the community was coming to speak out against it, and with no notice, they instead voted to pass it last Wed at 9am when people are at work and the Agenda stated that Sellers was only going to give the BOS an update.

    It is a complete falsehood that they ever notified all the neighbors within a 1/2 mile radius of the site. I live next to the site and knew NOTHING abou this until a couple of weeks ago!

    This is not “in a little corner of the county” – it is smack in the center of Southern Albemarle. Surrounded by every major historic estate and farm in this area – Nydrie Stud, Woodville, Old Woodville, Coleswood, Enniscorthy, Estouteville, Plain Dealing, all the former-Kluge-now-Dave Matthews’ tracts, Maple Hill, Totier Creek Farm, Scottland Farm, Liberty Farm, Esmont Farm – just to name a few.

    And by the way, the property Ken Boyd is stating the county already owns is true – because it was a GIFT generously given decades ago to the county from one of the families for the specific use as a landfill. Nice way to say thank you, by destroying the family’s surrounding properties and way of life!

    The landfill has a minimum of 30 years after closure that it can be messed with – except the BOS has decided that doesn’t matter because they’re the government and can do whatever they want.

    There is no logical reason whatsoever for this to be going where it is, poisoning 2 creeks, the water supply of Scottsville, ruining the lives of thousands of people living in a 5 mile radius. The police have managed to be trained for the past several decades. They would not have been asked to leave Rivanna Rifle Range had they not treated the gun club and its members so shabbily.

    They have been offered numerous alternatives for little to no money, yet our BOS claims they can spend $1.5 million now and admit this will be a $25million project as it unfolds. While at the same time they claim they don’t have money to serve schools or numerous other county needs without constantly raising property taxes.

    Here’s a thought. Send the police to Nottoway or Augusta to train twice a year and it will cost far far less than $25million.

    But training policemen isn’t what this is really about is it?

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