CLINTON — A special-use permit for a proposed DeWitt County gun club could come before the DeWitt County Board next week in what may be a showdown between club members and neighbors opposed to the plan.
The conflict between the LeRoy Rifle and Pistol Club and neighbors who don't want a gun range has focused on a legal fight over an easement between the club and Dawn Funderberg, who owns the land that leads to the club's landlocked property. County officials have cited that lack of access for delaying action on the permit.
Club officials told the DeWitt County Zoning Board of Appeals on Monday that they have purchased additional land near the property that will allow access without the easement.
“The club members will now have access from the road and the issue of access has been mooted by that purchase,” said Amy Rupiper, an attorney for the club.
Despite the purchase, the ZBA voted 4-1 Monday against recommending the permit to the County Board because the legal dispute on the easement still is pending.
“The County Board instructed us to resolve the access issue,” ZBA board member Dave Waters said. “The fact that this is still under litigation tells me that the issue is not resolved.”
Funderberg’s attorney, Joe Taylor, said his client will continue to fight the proposed club, regardless of what happens on the access issue.
“These 40 acres should never have been purchased for this,” he said. “Anyone with any common sense would have taken an option on this and checked these things out.
"There are four $250,000 homes within 200 or 300 yards of this property," Taylor added. "The zoning law said you can’t have a gun club within a mile of a home. What they are not telling you is that they don’t qualify.”
The County Board has not addressed the issue of the club's proximity to homes, focusing instead on the access issue.
The club, which has a lease on land near LeRoy that is about to expire, bought the land northwest of Wapella in 2016 and announced plans to convert the property into a gun range and meeting place for members.
Club members presented their request for a special-use permit to the DeWitt County Board in August 2016, but the board delayed a decision because of access concerns. It sent the matter back to the ZBA with instructions for the ZBA to address the access and easement issue.
Funderberg had granted access to previous owners but denied it to the club, which then sued Funderberg.
DeWitt County Judge Gary Webber ruled the club is entitled to an easement, but only for personal or agricultural use, and not for business use. The gun club appealed, and the case still is pending.
Rupiper argued to the ZBA Monday that the club's new land purchase means the easement dispute that blocked ZBA approval was no longer a concern, but ZBA Chairman Andy Hedrick said that purchase is not a matter for the ZBA to consider.
The matter is likely to go the County Board on Nov. 16.
About 25 people attended the ZBA meeting, including several members of the club.