What you need to know about the next steps

Planning Commission Public Hearing
Wednesday, November 7
5:30 – 7:30
Chimacum High School

Written Comments accepted October 24 – November 9 at 4:30
Submit to: plancomm@cojefferson.wa.us
Subject line: ZON18 – 00036

Yes, this is still a roller coaster, but don’t get off now!

Background
The newly passed gun range ordinance impacts two aspects of the County code. The regulations that passed last Friday are relevant to Title 8, which is focused on public safety. The other impact is on Title 18, which has to do with land use. Changes to Title 18 require a public hearing before the Planning Commission, which occurs this Wednesday. The Planning Commission is a group of volunteer citizens who want the best for this county. We hope that they will make recommendations to the BOCC about this section of the ordinance, to preserve our current land use code and protect our quality of life.

While Mr. Hunsucker, county attorney and author of the new ordinance, discusses a “harmonizing” of the newly passed Title 8 and the current Title 18 sections, at present they are in conflict. The Title 8 ordinance (already passed) states that if any provision in this article conflicts with Title 18 (the subject of Wednesday’s hearing), that Title 8 will prevail.

Our job together is to make sure Title 18 prevails.

The recently passed Title 8 ordinance that the Planning Commission was shown on October 17 is an expansion of gun range sizes and uses. The draft is tailor-made for operators such as Fort Discovery, Inc., Joe D’Amico’s operation, and does not comport with the purpose and intent of the Moratorium ordinance.

The TRC’s primary focus will be preserving, not removing, the existing small-scale recreation and tourist qualification for gun ranges.

We oppose any attempt in the County’s draft ordinance to re-designate commercial shooting facilities as something other than small-scale recreational tourist uses. Gun ranges in this county have always been small-scale recreational tourist uses. There is no basis for changing that designation. Recreational shooting will always be welcome in our county; sprawling training facilities will not.

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We need people at the meeting this Wednesday making public comment to the Planning Commission and writing letters. We believe letters from the heart by residents of the county are most effective.

Below are some suggestions for specifics in your comments or letters:

• All new ranges should be indoors. Indoor ranges alleviate many environmental and noise problems, and are being promoted all over the United States as a way to accommodate the needs of both recreational shooters and nearby residents.

• Citizen rights to live in peace vs an individual’s right to insert a non-compatible business.

• No military training in Jefferson County. Our local law enforcement officers’ training needs are currently being met by the Jefferson County Sportsman’s Club. The Federal Government trains our military, and the military is not allowed to act as a domestic police force.

• No outdoor night shooting.

• No landing aircraft allowed.

• No overnight accommodations.

• Required environmental testing for copper.

What happens to Jefferson County if we have the most permissive gun range code in the area? Do we become the default haven for all shooters in an extended area, while sacrificing our forestry, tourism, and agricultural industries, not to mention our rural way of life?

The following are more extensive suggestions as crafted by our attorney:

1. Adoption of a 500-yard buffer zone around lakes. A buffer zone for lakes appears in the Kitsap County ordinance and should appear in ours. The County staff report recommends against adopting this provision on the grounds that it is unnecessary, since the draft ordinance will orient shooting ranges away from lakes; unreasonable, since duck hunters can shoot on lakes; and likely to result in a costly legal challenge and expose the County to liability for property owners’ attorney’s fees under RCW 64.40 and 42 U.S.C. 1983. None of these justifications is correct. The County should adopt the buffer zone.

Orientation of shooting ranges alone will not protect lakes, contrary to the staff report. Bullets do not always travel in a straight line; they ricochet. Nor does the presence of duck hunters on lakes justify the presence of shooting ranges next to lakes, since duck hunters fire only occasional blasts of short-range shotgun pellets, whereas shooters at gun ranges fire hundreds or thousands of rounds of long-range rifle bullets, year around. Given the much higher volume of more dangerous projectiles, a Kitsap County-style lake buffer for shooting ranges is necessary and proper.

2. Adoption of a 1,000-foot setback from property line. A setback of 1,000 feet from the property line to the nearest edge of any part of the shooting range. As with the setback for lakes, the main issue here is bullet safety. In addition, a 1,000-foot setback will mitigate (though hardly eliminate) noise impacts from a commercial shooting facility.

Setbacks are a common feature of land use regulations, even for relatively innocuous land uses like single-family houses. Imposing a setback on commercial shooting facilities is reasonable to protect the safety of persons on neighboring properties and has the secondary benefit of reducing the uniquely noisy impacts of these facilities. Indeed, Thurston County already has a setback for shooting ranges in its land use code.

3. Commercial shooting facilities are not essential public facilities.
An essential public facility (EPF) is one that is necessary to serve the public welfare, such as airports, schools, in-patient facilities, sanitation facilities, and transportation infrastructure such as highways and airports. These facilities are exempt from most zoning laws, because they are “difficult to site” but also provide services necessary for the public welfare. WAC 365-196-550.
A commercial shooting facility might be difficult to site, but it is not essential to the public welfare of Jefferson County. There are plenty of gun ranges within reasonable driving distance where County law enforcement officers can train and civilians can shoot for fun. There is no basis for granting any commercial shooting facility EPF status. There is no history in Jefferson County or any other county or city in Washington State of granting EPF status to commercial shooting facilities. Therefore, TRC’s draft ordinance includes a statement that commercial shooting facilities are not EPFs, and thus are not exempt from zoning laws.

4. Do not make any amendments to Table Three in the current Title 18 ordinance. Commercial shooting facilities should remain small-scale recreational tourist uses. The land use code currently provides that all gun ranges must be small-scale recreational tourist uses (JCC 18.15.040, Table 3-1). We believe this is an appropriate designation for commercial shooting facilities. Such facilities should be kept small, aimed at recreational (as opposed to professional) uses, and have a tourism (as opposed to training) focus. Our draft ordinance proposes retaining this long-standing designation. And naturally, small-scale recreational tourist shooting facilities must still comply with the new safety and land-use regulations proposed for shooting facilities.

 

Don’t lose heart.  We aren’t!