HANOVER — The Hanover County Board of Supervisors will decide whether a local VFW Post can continue to hold semi-annual events that some neighbors say are dangerous.
Members of Post 10657 of Glen Allen are seeking a Conditional Use Permit allowing them to construct a building to house a collection of antique military vehicles and equipment at their Cedar Lane location.
There was little objection to the new building, but the activities associated with the site were scrutinized when Planning Commissioners considered the request last month.
The Post was seeking to amend its sketch plan to accommodate the new building on its 7-acre-plus site off Cedar Lane. The property is currently zoned agricultural.
Assistant county planner Lee Garman said the county’s department of Public Works requires a certified study to determine if the new plans infringe on surrounding wetlands.
He also noted a second entrance used for the Jeep trails that run throughout the property was developed in violation of the current CUP.
In addition to the Jeep trails, foxholes and other simulated fortifications have been erected in or near the wetlands area that must be restored to its original condition.
Post representative Scott Courtney of Resource International said restoring those wetlands might only require the removal of logs that outline the trail and allowing the area to reforest.
A community meeting was held last November where neighbors cited concerns regarding the use of Cedar Lane for vintage military vehicles and the firing of military weapons that disturb neighboring livestock and other animals.
Garman said the application would require a survey of the property conducted by a certified engineer to delineate the location of the wetlands submitted before a site plan could be approved.
Planners also recommended that the firing of military weapons or the use of military vehicles for demonstrations not be allowed as part of the CUP.
Courtney asked that those activities be permitted on Memorial Day and Veterans Day when the Post invites families to celebrate the holidays at the location.
“This is one of the educational activities that the VFW does,” Courtney said. “The wetlands area is somewhat a replica of Vietnam, and the firing of blanks is one of the things that give the attendees a feel for what it was like. They use these events as a fundraiser.”
Courtney told the commissioners that certified surveys had been completed and submitted as requested and the trails are no longer being used by the Post.
Courtney also requested that the second entrance be allowed to remain open during construction of the new building.
He asked the commission to revise the planning staff’s recommendations and allow the demonstrations and firing of weapons on two specific days during the year, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Courtney said neighbors would be notified to allow ample time to remove or prepare animals for the firings.
“We are opposed to this because of the impact that it has on the livestock,” said neighbor Mike Adams. “It’s hard to move them for just a day with these events. With five hours of gunfire, the animals just can’t take it. The VFW said they had a right to do it and they were going to continue to do it.”
Adams said during those live fire demonstrations combatants fired blanks at each other “at point blank range with kids standing up in the Jeeps.”
He said the Post also allowed young children to fire M-16 weapons without hearing or eye protection.
“Basic gun safety rules were not adhered to,” Adams said.
Adams, whose father founded the Post, said the organization has been “taken over” by members of a vintage military vehicle association.
Warren Newsome said he attends those special celebrations and supports the continuation of the events including the live fire and vehicle rides.
He said allowing children to ride in the vintage vehicles provides special insight into Army life.
“All the vehicles we parade are legal,” Newsome said.
He also said the blanks used pose no danger due to the minimal amount of gunpowder used to make them.
“A firecracker is louder than these blanks,” he said.
Courtney told commissioners that certified surveys had been completed and submitted as requested and the trails are no longer being used by the Post.
Richard Crane, quatermaster of the Post, also spoke in favor of allowing the event to continue and said the event teaches safe practices.
“We emphasize safe firearms handling. … Under the instruction of veterans,” Crane said. “The most important part of our event is seeing people talking to the veterans. We only want to do this twice a year.”
Fay Strong is a member of Post Auxiliary and her father co-founded the current unit, but she expressed concerns regarding the live fire demonstrations.
“I’m not opposed to the building,” she said. “I’m opposed to what I just stood here and heard them say the firing of the guns was safe. I’m opposed to the shooting, which has been a problem for quite a long time.”
Commissioner Larry Leadbetter represents the district where the Post is located and said he had walked the property, including the trails and the foxholes.
“It’s torn up pretty bad with a lot of ruts,” he said, describing the wetlands area where the trails are located. “Based on what I saw and what the neighbors have indicated… I think this activity is very disruptive to this neighborhood.”
Leadbetter said he favored recommending approval of the application, including the restrictions outlined by planning staff that included the prohibition of live fire, the restoration of the wetlands, and the closing of the second entrance leading to the Jeep trails.
His fellow commissioners agreed and approved the recommendation by a unanimous vote.
The board of supervisors will now consider the application at an upcoming meeting.