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Bigfork rifle range owner appeals cease order

September 22, 2018

The owner of a rifle range near Bigfork is appealing a ruling by the Flathead County zoning administrator to cease operation of the facility because it doesn’t have the permit needed for commercial activity.

Michael Krachun, who owns Bigfork Guns and Ammo at 433 Grand Ave. in Bigfork, maintains that his gun range at 395 Echo Bay Trail is a private facility and therefore doesn’t require a permit.

The Flathead County Board of Adjustment will hear the appeal in a public hearing at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 2.

Two years ago Krachun applied for a conditional-use permit for the 60-acre range in wooded land near Echo Lake, but he pulled the application following a contentious hearing before the Bigfork Land Use Advisory Committee, during which neighbors vehemently opposed the rifle range. Opposition largely focused on the concern that errant bullets could strike nearby residents. The nearest home is more than 500 feet away.

A year ago the county Planning Office received an official complaint, stating Krachun was advertising the use of the gun range as part of his firearms business. An advertisement in the local Mountain Trader and screenshots of Bigfork Guns and Ammo’s Facebook page appeared to advertise the use of the range for public use in conjunction with firearms at his business, according a report by Planning Director and Zoning Administrator Mark Mussman.

When the Planning Office investigated, Krachun subsequently removed the ads and Facebook references “and it appeared the violation was closed,” Mussman said.

In June this year more complaints were filed, however. Further investigation prompted the Planning Office to send a letter in July, stating that because it appeared a home occupation of a gun range was being conducted on the property in an accessory building, a conditional-use permit would be needed.

Krachun’s lawyer told the Planning Office the home on Krachun’s property was not occupied “and therefore a conditional-use permit for a home occupation would not be applicable,” Mussman’s report noted.

Following a final letter in which Mussman asked Krachun to cease operation of the gun range because commercial activity isn’t allowed in that zoning district - agricultural with a 40-acre minimum lot size - Krachun’s attorney again asserted the gun range was private and asked for an appeal of Mussman’s ruling.

Mussman noted that photographs submitted with various complaints against the gun range indicated statements such as “try before you buy” and schedule a time to “check off one in your bucket list ... shoot a full auto! Come visit us and schedule it.”

Mussman said Krachun has continued to advance the development of his gun range “and appears to continue to market the gun range as a way for potential customers to test firearms.”

The Board of Adjustment will meet in the second-floor conference room of the Earl Bennett Building, 1035 First Ave. W. in Kalispell.

Features Editor Lynnette Hintze may be reached at 758-4421 or lhintze@dailyinterlake.com.

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