CLINTON — DeWitt County residents fighting a proposed gun club near Waynesville won a key battle in DeWitt County court Wednesday when a judge declined to overturn an earlier decision to expand restrictions on an easement for access to the property.
The LeRoy Rifle and Pistol Club purchased 40 acres northwest of Wapella in 2016 with plans to convert the property into a gun range and meeting place for members, but the property is landlocked and requires an easement through adjoining property for access.
After the DeWitt County Board sent the club's special-use permit application back to the Zoning Board of Appeals because of a lack of access, the club sued landowner Dawn Funderberg for an easement. She owns the land that leads to the property and had granted access to previous owners but denied it to the gun club because she opposes the gun range.
In February, DeWitt County Judge Gary Webber granted the easement, but limited the easement to “agriculture and personal” use.
If club leaders proceed with plans to build a meeting facility and shooting range on the property, it would have to be zoned commercial.
David Sigale, an attorney for the club, argued Wednesday the court overreached by adding the zoning terminology to the easement.
“The plaintiffs are not asking to alter or change the easement,” Sigale argued. “They just want to go back and forth onto their property. Everything else should be left to the zoning board. The ruling went too far in scope.”
Funderberg's attorney, Joe Taylor, argued that the zoning issue will be decided by the DeWitt County Board at a later date.
“We are not talking about zoning with this easement and never have,” he said. “They aren't buying an easement and aren't paying one dime to Dawn Funderberg. We are talking about limiting the scope of the easement because you don't want hundreds of people going onto her property all of the time.”
In his ruling, Webber noted the issue is less about the easement and more about two different sides arguing about whether or not a gun club should be built on the property. But he limited his decision to the easement itself.
“I think this does affect her land because there is the possibility that people could be going on and off the property, possibly at any hour,” he said. “She should have the same right of enjoyment to the easement as the plaintiffs.”
After the hearing, Funderberg said she was thrilled with the decision.
“I'm glad this part is over, but I know the whole thing isn't over,” she said. “There is still a lot more to come.”
Taylor said the gun club can appeal the decision to the 4th District Appellate Court. Even with a victory there, the issue of the proposed gun club would have to pass through the DeWitt County Board.
“We respectfully disagree with the judge's decision,” Sigale said after the hearing. “We are going to look at all of our options and decide what to do next.”