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As neighbors deal with gunfire noise from Hampton police’s outdoor site, officials launch plans to build indoor range

Hampton police department recruits practice shooting at. Firing range on Bethel Road Friday morning January 22, 2021. The City of Hampton is planning to build a new indoor firing range along Armistead Avenue, near the city's public works building.
Hampton police department recruits practice shooting at. Firing range on Bethel Road Friday morning January 22, 2021. The City of Hampton is planning to build a new indoor firing range along Armistead Avenue, near the city's public works building. (Jonathon Gruenke/Daily Press)

HAMPTON — Rapid gunfire erupts from Hampton police’s outdoor range and echoes through Old North Hampton and beyond, depending on which way the wind is blowing.

“It’s extremely loud. Not knowing when the next volley of shots (is) coming,” says Will Moffett, a former Hampton city council member who lives near the Bethel Avenue range. “They were using some high-powered automatic weapons. This has been a nightmare. It’s like living next to a train track.”

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Some of that has been tamped down recently, but it’s still bothersome, he said. Necessary to train police, not great for neighbors, the outdoor range leaves other things to be desired.

Tucked in a residential neighborhood and in earshot of an early childhood development center and the Y.H. Thomas Community Center, police also are limited to when they can practice, mostly during daytime but sometimes training continuing after 7 p.m.

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City officials have identified a new 22-acre site at 2908 Armistead Avenue on which it will build an indoor facility, away from residential neighborhoods. The price tag is loosely set at $7 million with funds allocated in Hampton’s capital improvement plan. The number is fluid because the city needs finish the design and bid out the project, city spokeswoman Robin McCormick said in an email. Earlier this month, the Hampton City Council committed to shifting $1.5 million from the general fund to begin design work.

Moving the firing range allows for more flexibility for the police as it “can be used year-round, every day of the week, at all times of the day, despite weather conditions,” Hampton police Sgt. R.C. Williams said in an email. The division will be able to manipulate the lighting conditions, control the climate and eliminate the noise, he added.

“At a minimum, (it) will allow us to accommodate the same number of staff with the same capabilities as our current range, in a modernized facility,” Williams said.

Neighbors in Old North Hampton long have lobbied the city to do something about the noise. Practice rounds from the current site, built on the city’s former landfill, can be heard as far away as Mercury Boulevard near Air Power Park and the Waterwalk trail. Hampton even put in shrubs at one point to create a noise buffer.

“I still hear it, not as much as I could when I lived on Rip Rap Road, depending on which way the wind blows,” says Hugh Bassette. “I think as a community, we will be delighted, especially people who have been working on that a long time. It’s got to be 20 years.”

Moffett has lived in the area for nearly three decades, which is home to many seniors and veterans, some dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, he said. The councilman has been among many who have advocated for the community, which he says felt like a dumping ground, first with the former landfill and now the firing range, in a historically predominately Black neighborhood.

“It would qualify for an environmental injustice to a community of a lot people who have been underserved. It becomes the new normal. I see the children playing in the playground. That really stuck with me,” Moffett said. “Can you imagine a citizen coming from out of town and if they never experienced the gun shots? It might be quite disconcerting.”

Jennifer Parish, executive director at the Downtown Childhood Development Center, which accommodates children from 6 weeks old to age 5, said it is disconcerting especially to new parents because they don’t know where the gunfire is coming from.

“It’s noticeable to the little ones. They get used to it,” Parish said, adding the center reassures children and parents it’s not dangerous. “We certainly appreciate the fact the City Council is finding ways to support the community.”

The other issue is Hampton has sunk millions of reinvestment dollars to improve the adjacent Old Hampton and other redevelopment in Old North Hampton sections. Closing the facility could accelerate residential growth there, officials said.

“It would be difficult to attract families to the neighborhood and raise kids if they have to live near the firing range,” Vice Mayor Jimmy Gray said. “It doesn’t do much for the quality of life.”

Moffett is glad the city is moving in the right direction, though it could still take several months before any construction takes place.

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“People in this community have been very patient to get to funding,” he said. “There will be a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Lisa Vernon Sparks, 757-247-4832, lvernonsparks@dailypress.com

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