Planning Board OKs military training facility

Mary Katherine Murphy Staff writer

September 16, 2013

LAURINBURG — A request by a Maxton-based security company to house a military training facility in Laurinburg gained ground on Monday when the city’s Planning Board opted to amend ordinances to allow such a facility within city limits.

The ordinance will be changed pending a vote tonight by the Laurinburg City Council.

According to Scotland County Economic Developer Greg Icard, Gryphon Group Security Solutions, which currently operates out of the Laurinburg-Maxton Airbase, is considering an expansion of its programs in the former QualPak plant located north of Laurinburg off of U.S. 401.

The plant, also the former home of Abbott Laboratories’ Laurinburg operation, has stood vacant for nearly two years. Due to the building’s design and low ceilings, it is of particular use for military training, Icard said.

“That particular building has some advantages for what they want to do because of its mezzanine areas and there are certain sections of the building that are almost as if you’re on a ship, so they can do some naval type training,” said Icard.

Several companies have expressed interest in the building in the last two years, but were turned off by its design and low ceiling height.

“One of the significant issues with the building is that it’s so very compartmentalized that the opportunities going forward in the future to put a manufacturing facility in that building are very limited,” Icard said. “When Abbott was there and when they were adding on to it, they weren’t considering who was going to use it when they were done with it, and those types of things make it difficult to market the building.”

Icard added that, where companies interested in the QualPak facility earlier would have used only parts of the building, Gryphon Group will utilize it in its entirety, in addition to using parts of the grounds as a pistol firing range and helipad.

In amending the city’s universal development ordinance to permit a military training facility within the Industrial zoning category, the planning board established general standards for permissible military training facilities, including minimum distances of a live firing area from public right-of-way and residential areas as well as 15-foot berms around live firing areas.

“We looked at Harnett County; they have a lot of military as well as public shooting ranges, so we took a lot from their regulations,” said city planning director Brandi Deese. “We did focus a lot more on the outdoors because we were concerned.”

If the ordinance changes are passed by the city council, Gryphon Group will then enter the process to obtain a conditional-use permit allowing a military training facility at the QualPak plant or another specific location.

“This just allows an applicant to come back and apply for a conditional use permit to have a military training facility within the city limits,” Deese said. “The second step is where you would consider specific sites. We may amend the ordinance and find that every site that comes before us is not appropriate.”

Planning board member Charles Parker expressed concerns with noise pollution as well as the potential for Gryphon Group to return and request to use higher-caliber weapons.

“I do think that some doors can be opened that we might not like,” Parker said. “Even though what Mr. Icard has said certainly sounds awfully appealing … I can see doors being opened, even though we can put conditional uses there that may seem to close doors.”

Parker made a motion to refuse the amendment request, which was not given a second. The planning board then voted to approve the request and forward it to city council, with members Kathy Williamson, James Thomas, and Sallie Jones in favor and Parker opposed.

The QualPak plant is currently owned by GoJo Industries. Icard said that Gryphon Group is “very serious” about obtaining the necessary permits and using the plant.

“It’s just a matter of meeting these regulations and getting through this process to ensure that they’re allowed to use it,” he said.

In other business on Monday, the planning board approved a conditional use permit for a day care facility on Produce Market Road and approved new member Charles Jordan.