Despite concerns about noise, environmental impact and public notice, Sarasota County commissioners approved a rezone for an expansion of Knights Trail Park Tuesday.
Commissioners unanimously approved the rezone of 43 acres north of the shooting range in Nokomis to government use from rural and conservation uses to allow a new sporting clays course. Trap, Skeet and Sporting Clay’s Inc., which has operated the adjacent site since 1996, will continue to lease the expanded property from the county while adding a golf cart path, bathroom facilities and new shooting stations.
Through more than 700 emails to commissioners and public comment, supporters of the expansion cited the new sporting clays courses as an economic development tool and community asset, while opponents said the sound pollution and environmental concerns outweighed those positives. The parcel is a piece of the Pinelands Reserve, which is a 6,151-acre nature reserve the county bought in 1985.
The area has been used a gun range since the 1980s.
Dennis Bosch, an instructor and volunteer who works with young shooters at Knights Trail, told commissioners the current facilities were getting “cramped,” and that an expansion would allow more community groups, such as the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce, and charity organizations, such as the Wounded Warrior Project, to use the facility.
“(The Sarasota Trap, Skeet and Clays Club) has over 500 members,” said Richard Hoefer in an email to commissioners. “It operates with rigid safety precautions and great care to preserve wildlife and the environment.”
“I have nothing against sporting clays,” said environmental activist Jono Miller, who spoke against the expansion. “I had a 20-gauge shotgun before I had a two-wheel bicycle.”
But, Miller and environmental author Andre Mele said the material in the shooting targets and ammunition would alter the environment, making the rezone inconsistent with the Sarasota County Comprehensive Plan.
“We’re concerned about the precedent this sets for the taking of public lands,” Mele said.
Commissioners approved the rezone after discussing the environmental stewardship of hunters and the site’s tourism potential.
“I look forward to this area serving our citizens, and this is a great need in our community,” said Commissioner Christine Robinson.
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