Proposal for security-training center in Homeland advances
Press Enterprise (2008-01-09) Julissa Mckinnon
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10:00 PM PST on Wednesday, January 9, 2008
By JULISSA Mc KINNON
HOMELAND - After addressing noise, traffic and several safety concerns about his proposal to build a state-of-the-art security-training facility in Homeland's rural foothills, first-time developer John Choate received a green light from the Riverside County Planning Commission to continue with the project.
More than a dozen residents of the undulating countryside around Choate's proposed development site spoke at a public hearing Wednesday morning, a few opposing but most supporting the facility because of its potential to advance national and homeland security.
In addition to neighbors' qualms about how gunshots might disturb the area's quietude, Choate listened to a host of requests from planning commissioners and conceded several changes to his plan. Those changes included adding three strands of barbed wire atop an 8-foot-tall perimeter fence, planting more trees and shrubbery around the property, and limiting incidences of outdoor gun-shooting to five times a year for no longer than one hour at a time.
Choate, a former Navy SEAL and military trainer, said if his proposal gains the approval of the county's Board of Supervisors in late January he hopes to have the 3½-mile urban-style driving track built sometime this spring.
Choate called the driving track the centerpiece of the development he would call The Ranch as the property has always been called by his family. The family inherited the property from his late grandfather, who purchased it in 1900. The driving track would be the first part of the multiphase project to be built because Choate said he anticipates the track would generate the greatest return on the $18 million to $20 million investment.
"It is the bread and butter (of the project). There is nothing like it within 1,500 miles," Choate said, referring to the fact that unlike most law enforcement driving training track, his will incorporate urban features such as cul-de-sacs, uneven surfaces and speed bumps.
However, the handful of residents opposing Choate's project seemed less concerned about the driving track than the shooting that would occur daily at The Ranch, even though 99 percent of the live fire would happen indoors.
Kim Preston, who has lived with her family and raised horses in these foothills for 20 years, said she dreads the loud echoes of gunshots ricocheting off a "mountain of solid rock" as she described it, across the valley.
Noise studies completed by Urban Crossroads Inc. and paid for by Choate concluded that the sound of such gunshots would not exceed 51 decibels at the perimeter of the property. The county's noise ordinance sets 55 decibels as the daytime limit.
The tactical training center Choate proposes to build on 40 acres of his family's almost 200-acre parcel includes a gymnasium, a covered pool, two classrooms, nine indoor firing ranges, several mock streets to simulate a town, and a driving track.
Several neighbors spoke on behalf of Choate's project, such as Richard Hewitt who has lived on nine acres on the west side of the Choate property for 20 years.
"What are the alternatives to the training center?" Hewitt said to the Planning Commission and an audience of at least 50 people from the podium. "You can leave it the way it is as virgin land. But that is probably not realistic and at my age I no longer believe in the tooth fairy ... It's prime development land. The other alternative is 150 homes and all the issues those homes would bring with probably 500 more people, at least 300 more cars, more illegal ATV running, more crime and more strain on our resources of water and electricity."
Hewitt also praised the project for its contribution to the advancement of national security, a sentiment echoed by Eric Measley, a resident and a retiree of the Air Force.
"This is the type of training our law enforcement needs. Terrorists are highly dedicated to creating havoc and destruction all over the world," Measley said. "I have more concerns on New Year's Eve than about a firing range where there's controlled fire. This place is designed and used by people who know what they're doing."
Reach Julissa Mc Kinnon
at 951-375-3730 or jmckinnon@PE.com