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September 18, 2019

Is Zoning a Problem for Your Indoor Range Plans? There is a Solution


By Jonathan Golli and Chris Sciulli, AE7 Planners & Architects

While many zoning codes regulate outdoor shooting ranges, few include language for a building to be used as an indoor shooting range. Indoor firearms ranges are unique buildings that can provide education, shopping and recreation, and determining the proper zoning regulations for one can be complicated, especially if the range is being designed on an urban site where local codes are not in place.

When designing Keystone Shooting Center, located in Mars, Pennsylvania, about 18 miles north of Pittsburgh, we worked with the local authority to adhere to existing codes, while also establishing new codes for the township. This ensures that any future indoor shooting ranges are designed with the same standards we helped determine.

Work with Existing Code

When designing an indoor gun range, one of the first steps is to check with the local authority and zoning code to determine if indoor firearms ranges are a part of the local zoning code. In the case of Keystone Shooting Center, the local zoning code did not regulate or even acknowledge indoor firearms ranges.

We treated this range as a recreational site for the purpose of applying for approvals. While not commonly seen as a recreational site, indoor gun ranges function similarly to other recreational sites by offering a place to practice a sport. With such sites, most would reference the International Building Code (IBC), which employs calculations to determine the occupancy load for various spaces. However, the IBC does not cover firearms ranges. We took it upon ourselves to calculate the occupancy load for the shooting range in the same way bowling alleys are calculated: excluding the area beyond the firing line — a bowling alley would eliminate all the lane area in front of the foul line — from what is counted as occupiable space.

Making New Code

Since the existing zoning ordinances in Mars did not contain regulations for indoor firearms ranges, we used existing code while working collaboratively with local policymakers to create new codes. Initially, the project could not move forward to a vote, since indoor ranges were not covered in the existing zoning code. But while indoor ranges were not explicitly allowed within the language of the code, they were also not explicitly prohibited.

The board was open-minded and eager to work with us. Their process involved public hearings in which members of the community may voice their opinion on the project, and we presented the lengths we had gone to design a safe facility that would not disturb neighboring properties. We also offered to help write the new codes for firearms ranges using Keystone Shooting Center as a baseline for the standards any future indoor shooting ranges should follow.

Setting a New Standard

Talk to your architect up front to see what codes are in place. If they aren’t, encourage them to help the local municipality develop codes that accommodate indoor ranges. By pioneering new zoning codes in urban areas that lack such regulations, you are helping to ensure that future indoor ranges planned for the area are held to a similar standard of safety. And if your range is built with the best safety features, then those features will become the new standard for any range to follow.

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