American Legion Post 64 in Marietta could be housed in new facilities within the next couple of years, according to a presentation during a meeting of Marietta City Council's planning, zoning, annexation and housing committee Tuesday.
"We're planning to move forward on a veteran's center that would include medical clinic offices as well as a new legion post facility," said post Commander Regis Kern.
He said the current Legion building would be razed, and a new 10,000-square-foot facility would be constructed on the same 5.4 acreage at the corner of Wooster and Eighth streets. But the project would also require a zoning change.
"Our existing property is zoned R-3 residential, but we would like to upgrade that to commercial C-3 zoning," Kern said.
Member Jean Yost said the post's board of directors had considered renovating the current building, but due to several needed improvements the decision was made to build a new facility.
"The roof needs replaced, the sewer and electrical systems need replaced, and the parking lot has to be repaired," he said. "We're just looking to get a start on this now, but nothing can move ahead without a zoning change."
Kern said in order to move forward, the post has to provide the Veterans Administration with preliminary plans by Feb. 28.
"It feels like a great project, but there's a timing issue," said Councilman Michael Mullen, I-at large, noting a zoning change would take council some time to complete.
"We need to find a way to be supportive of this project to allow it to move forward, but knowing it could take three to six months to make the zoning change," he said.
Yost said he had talked with city law director Paul Bertram III, who told him if everything fell into place the zoning change could be done within six weeks.
"We're hoping the first reading of the required legislation could take place during council's Feb. 20 meeting to help move this along, if the stars would align to have the zoning done in three to six weeks," Yost said.
But Councilman Tom Vukovic, D-4th Ward said council approval of a zoning change within that space of time would be extremely rare.
"And it puts a tremendous amount of pressure on us to get this through in a short period," he said.
Mullen said neighboring property owners would have to be contacted about the proposed change in zoning from residential to commercial, and a majority of the neighbors would have to approve of the change.
Yost noted post members had been raising funds for several years in hopes of building a new facility.
"And if we can get the clinic it would be a real positive for this community," Kern said.
Committee chairman Roger Kalter, D-1st Ward, asked Kern and Yost to return to the committee next week with a long-range plan and more focused timeline for the project.
In other business Tuesday, Charles "Chip" Ditchendorf, who wants to expand his West Side Safe and Gun shop at 205 Pearl St. to include an indoor firing range, said he's still open to input from neighboring property owners about the proposed range, and only a couple of neighbors have responded so far.
"But I have the right to do this," he said, noting that his current business is located in a C-6 commercial zone in which the expansion is allowed.
"I bought that property because it was zoned C-6," Ditchendorf said. "And I am going to build this shooting range."
But Vukovic noted before any shooting can occur at the facility council would have to approve a waiver of city code that prohibits discharging any firearms (except by law enforcement officers) within the city limits.
Mullen also said a petition against the establishment of a shooting range at 205 Pearl St., bearing 75 signatures, had been submitted by neighboring property owners.
"But the only concern I've had is the noise level from the shooting range," he said, adding that the Wood County Commissioners in West Virginia were also considering a shooting range, although that range would be an outdoor facility in the Parkersburg area.
Mullen said the Wood County officials had appointed a committee to gather data about gun ranges in other areas and how those communities were able to approve them.
He suggested that Ditchendorf also contact other areas where gun ranges are allowed to see how those facilities received approval.
Vukovic, in whose ward the shooting range would be built, said he's had phone calls from constituents about the proposed facility.
"What you want to do makes good sense to me, but I don't know how to overcome the fears of neighbors about noise and the location of a range near a daycare center, playground, and a school," he said.
Ditchendorf said he believes the shooting range design will address the noise issue and the range would be a safe and secure facility.
Legislation waiving the city ordinance prohibiting discharge of firearms within the city limits was introduced during the Jan. 16 session of Marietta City Council.
If the legislation is approved, Ditchendorf expects to have the $500,000 shooting range completed within the next five years.