To the east of Charlottesville, the residents of the Milton area enjoy the rolling rural hills and clear views of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
Yet for a number of people in the area, the sights and scenery are marred by the consistent sound of gunfire emanating from Milton Field.
The 172-acre field located off Milton Road is where the University of Virginia once taught aeronautics to students and where the Rivanna Radio Control Club flies its model airplanes. It is also home to the shooting range where officers from the UVa
Police Department take target practice.
Barry and Claudia Hartland have lived in Glenmore
, on the other side of the Rivanna River
from the field, since 1999. Golf is their passion and they hear the gunshots both from their home and at the Glenmore Country Club
“It goes through periods, or it did, where it was sporadic. But now, in the last few weeks, it’s been bizarre here,” said Claudia Hartland, referring to the gunshots she said they hear every day. “When they’ve been doing it lately, it’s like a barrage.”
According to Capt. Don McGee of the University Police Department, the facility has been in use as a shooting range for several decades.
“I’ve been here for 30 years and we’ve been using it since before I got here,” McGee said.
Gerry Schoenig and Gordon Berne say they have
lived with the sound of gunshots for years
Gerry Schoenig is a retired toxicologist who lives in the area and has been petitioning the university to address the nuisance since 2010. He acknowledges that the range has been there for a long time but says UVa has failed to take into account the area’s growth.
“It’s so different from when it was a few officers over there 40 years ago or 50 years ago or even when I moved in here 15 years ago,” Schoenig said. “Two things have changed: the community has changed and the degree of use of the place has changed.”
Over the last year, the range underwent renovations to address safety concerns for the growing residential areas that surround the facility, adding walls and fencing, but no roof. Now some say that the additions act as a megaphone and the gunshots have gotten louder.
“It’s escalated in sound and frequency since the new facility went in,” Schoenig said, adding that he had been told that the new facility would address the noise concerns. “I think they made an honest effort to do something about it, but it hasn’t worked.”
Tom Desimini is president and general manager of Glenmore
Country Club. Although he is appreciative of the safety additions, he feels that the facility was left only partially finished.
“They need a roof, maybe some sound-absorbing materials inside,” Desimini said. “There are shooting ranges all over the country and they’re not open-air … I think they just did it halfway and if they just finish the job, I think we’ll be OK.”
A shooting facility for law enforcement for both Albemarle County
recently has been recommended for approval at the old Keene landfill site off Route 6 after proceeding through the public process required by the county. Those interviewed for this story wondered why the facility at Milton Field was not similarly reviewed by the county’s Planning Commission
According to Albemarle’s director of building, Jay Schlothauer, the university is not required to seek permission from the county for construction on land it owns.
“The Milton Field is owned by the University of Virginia and as such it is state property,” said Schlothauer, when asked about building permit applications regarding the site. “State property is not in the jurisdiction of the local building inspection office.”
Neighbors said they have written repeatedly to the university asking for a better solution. In 2011 a petition was sent to UVa’s Board of Visitors offering solutions to the problem and asking that the university take action.
“If the university needs to maintain a police force … then the university is fully obligated to provide a suitable place to perform these functions,” the petition states, outlining potential options for the range, including moving it indoors to a hangar on-site. “An open-air shooting range within ear shot of more than 2,000 people no longer is a suitable place, and the position of the university on this issue is highly inconsistent with the behavior of a responsible neighbor.”
Almost a year later, many neighborhood residents are discouraged by the lack of progress. To Barry Hartland, the ordeal has been an exercise in futility.
“There’s been virtually nothing we can do about it, so at the end of the day … you can either go nuts or you can say, well, that’s the university and this town’s run by the university and if they wanna shoot, they’re gonna shoot and they don’t care who it impacts anyway,” Hartland said. “It’s just unpleasant.”
The UVa Police
Department did not respond to calls Friday for further comment for this story.