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Posted January 20, 2013 | comments Leave a comment

Neighborhood cools over shooting ban request

By Alex Bridges

A proposed ban on shooting guns in a Warren County subdivision sparked protest this week but may also have drawn the community closer.

The Thunderbird Farms property owners association could meet soon to decide whether to withdraw the request, poll residents for their views or let the matter move forward, according to President Sharon Fisher.

"To me the most beneficial thing that could come out of this is that we start having more community participation," Fisher said Thursday. "I'm sorry it had to come to a contentious issue to bring people together but in the end we may be healthier."

Fisher admitted a "communication failure" occurred that left some residents out of the loop.

The property owners association asked the Board of Supervisors to add their neighborhood to those in which the county prohibits the discharging of firearms. Supervisors on Tuesday agreed to table the matter after more than a dozen residents who spoke at a public hearing on the issue appeared split for or against the request.

However some speakers noted that only about 30 of the more than 240 households attended the meeting at which the association made its vote. The association bylaws require 10 percent of the property owners at a meeting to make a quorum. Each property owner gets one vote at the meetings, Fisher explained.

The association also had invited a representative of the Warren County Sheriff's Office to help advise residents on the issue. As residents such as Susan Utley told supervisors she and many others did not know the association planned to discuss and vote on the shooting ban at its meeting.

"We get a quorum but we need involvement, we need the different voices of the community together because we have tough decisions we have to make as a community," Fisher said.

The association board now may consider one of the three options. As Fisher noted the association would try to notify more residents in advance of any meeting they plan to hold.

The volunteer board of the association looks at the covenants as a promise they make to the community, Fisher said.

"If the community can get together and help us figure out how to enforce the covenants as a community then that's great," Fisher said. "But I think what's happened is that a lot of times, although we get a quorum at our meetings, there's a big, silent majority both ways."

Supporters of the shooting ban cited recent incidents involving gunfire that came across private property and close to homes. The supporters expressed concern for the safety of themselves and others.

Opponents claimed the request would unfairly target law-abiding residents and is not needed because the community covenants already prohibit firing guns on property except in cases of self-defense. Foes also criticized an apparent lack of communication between the homeowners association and many residents who said the neighborhood leaders failed to notify them about the endorsement vote and the subsequent public hearing.

Vocal opponent Susan Utley spoke at the public hearing and told supervisors she, her husband Robert and many other residents did not know about the association's meeting.

"Most of us were not aware that this vote had passed," Utley said Thursday. "We weren't aware of the public hearing until anywhere from 24 hours to 72 hours prior to the public hearing.

"I said it did kind of create an us-versus-them mentality that needs to be fixed," Utley recalled.

"So it appears that the president, at a minimum, is trying to make moves toward smoothing this over with the property owners," Utley said.

The Utleys came to Thunderbird Farms for the seclusion and remained mainly ambivalent about the homeowners association. They mainly wanted their roads cleared in case of snow. But after the recent matter before the board Utley predicted she and other residents might pay more attention to association business.

"For us it won't be the end of the story because there's going to be a lot more participation I think in the meetings," Utley said. "This opened my eyes and this is a good thing. I told Sharon the same thing I said I don't want animosity. I don't want people to be afraid. I don't want to be afraid of my homeowners association.

Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or abridges@nvdaily.com

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