Update, Nov. 8: Correction and clarification
The name of the chief of staff of World War 2 Armor, Mike Houk, was misspelled. This has been corrected.
In addition, while the House of Ben Avraham LLC is listed as a federally licensed weapons dealer, Houk says the firm does not operate a standard retail firearms business that sells guns to the public. Rather, the House of Ben Avraham LLC has the license, issued by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, to enable it to import vintage weapons from foreign countries. Houk said the company does not operate a gun shop.
An Osteen landowner and friends who collect World War II-era heavy weapons and military vehicles scored a victory with Volusia County officials in their request to store, maintain and test their firepower.
The House of Ben Avraham LLC is a Longwood gun dealer licensed by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
The company owns land in Osteen, where it and a private nonprofit, World War 2 Armor, preserve and maintain an array of tanks, artillery, trucks and other vehicles used in World War II.
But the two organizations needed more buildings to house their relics.
The county’s Planning and Land Development Regulation Commission on Oct. 20 voted to recommend that the County Council approve the request for construction on the 117 acres along State Road 415 and Acorn Lake Road in Osteen.
“These are old vehicles. They want to make sure they are maintained,” Jessica Gow, the landowner’s attorney, told the PLDRC.
The aging vehicles and war machines are used in battle re-enactments practiced by volunteers on the property.
“There’s an infantry contingent. There’s a German contingent,” Mike Houk, World War 2 Armor’s chief of staff, said.
The county planning staff suggested the applicants be allowed to build structures to protect the historic items against harsh weather.
Moreover, the PLDRC agreed to back the groups’ request for more time each month to test-fire the heavy guns.
“They got three more hours per month to test,” county Planning Manager Trish Smith said.
The extra firing time will be between noon and 3 p.m., but the extra day was not specified.
Smith said World War 2 Armor warns neighbors about the live firing.
“They always call the neighbors to let them know,” she added.
World War 2 Armor’s live-fire activities now take place one weekend a month.
“We originally approved it for two days a month, and now they want a third,” PLDRC Chair Ronnie Mills said.
The third day for equipment testing would enable “mechanics … to test the operational integrity of the tanks prior to the volunteers arriving on site,” the county planning staff report noted.
The County Council granted a special exception for the House of Ben Avraham’s recreational area in 2020. The latest request would amend that special exception by permitting more buildings and perhaps allowing an annual open house for the public to see the relics and artifacts.
“It would be educational,” Gow said.
Such an open house may be scheduled on or near Memorial Day or Veterans Day, she said.
“We think it would be a good benefit for the future,” Gow said.
Not everyone agreed; the artillery has drawn fire from a neighbor.
“You can hear the gunfire,” Joshua Goodman said, as he played a recording of explosions he made at his home about a quarter of a mile away in Deltona. “It sounds like war. … It affects my neighbors.”
Goodman had also sent an email to county planners elaborating his opposition to the landowner’s request.
“I have sent decibel readings in the 80-105 range during their event from my couch in my living room and also various places in my yard,” he wrote Oct. 13.
World War 2 Armor fires only blanks, not projectile-loaded ammunition.
“Before you vote yes, ask yourself if you want to be woken [sic] up on a weekend by live artillery fire or even here [sic] live artillery fire,” Goodman continued. “They should be allowed to drive their tanks, but there is no reason why, with a large residential presence across the street from them, they should be allowed to make noise that can be heard and felt as far away as the Walmart on Howland or the Save A Lot on Courtland in Deltona.”
As for possible violation of the county’s noise ordinance, Gow said, “We have to comply with that.”
Supporters of the landowner and World War 2 Armor also spoke out.
“Overall, it’s been positive,” J.J. Rupp, a Realtor, said. “For my kids, it’s been a learning experience.”
“Being a veteran myself, I appreciate what they do,” Gerharol Munster said. “I hear more gunfire from the shooting ranges.”
Another Osteen neighbor followed up.
“They are truly the most professional,” James Jackson said, referring to the organization. “There’s a [shooting] range behind my house. There’s more gunshots there.”
“There’s a lot more shooting that goes on in the neighborhood,” Timothy Kaltenbach, yet another neighbor, told the PLDRC. “They spend their own money to maintain our road. … I’m definitely in favor of it.”
Support also came from Sheriff Michael Chitwood.
“The WWII Armor facility is well-maintained. Twenty-four-hour security is provided by Cambridge Security, along with state-of-the-art camera monitoring systems and alarms. Their invitation for us to tour the facility shows the proactive measures they are taking to build an alliance with local law enforcement as a means to share their fortification efforts,” Chitwood wrote.
The PLDRC voted 6-1 in favor of the House of Ben Avraham’s request. Planning Commissioner Jeffrey Bender dissented.
“I served in the United States Army. I am 100-percent disabled,” he said. “I just don’t think next to residents is where it ought to be.”
The PLDRC’s vote is advisory only. The Volusia County Council is scheduled to act on the matter Dec. 6.