State: County shooting ordinance a misfire

Posted 9/18/19

The Washington Growth Management Hearings Board, which rules on appeals of local zoning decisions, has decided Jefferson County still hasn’t got its shooting range ordinance right.

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State: County shooting ordinance a misfire

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The Washington Growth Management Hearings Board, which rules on appeals of local zoning decisions, has decided Jefferson County still hasn’t got its shooting range ordinance right.

The Board agreed with the Tarboo Ridge Coalition, a citizen group that said two new ordinances regulating commercial shooting ranges are inconsistent with the county’s comprehensive plan goals and don’t adequately protect citizens’ expectations of peaceful rural life in Jefferson County.

In its Sept. 16 ruling, the Board found Jefferson County’s new ordinances did not comply with the State Environmental Policy Act in regulating safety and public health requirements for shooting ranges.

“The county has some decisions to make,” said Peter Newland, president of the group that challenged the county’s shooting range ordinance.

“TRC is grateful for the opportunity to start over and dedicated to continue working for a sensible and fair ordinance that includes specific siting criteria with bright line rules about the location, size and intensity of new gun facilities,” Newland said.

His group’s original focus was Fort Discovery owner Joe D’Amico’s proposed commercial shooting range in Quilcene. The coalition appealed last December, after the county passed two ordinances regulating shooting ranges in Jefferson County.

The hearings board concluded that the county could not assess the environmental impacts of the shooting range code until it tested their consistency with the State Environmental Policy Act.

“The Board finds and concludes that Jefferson County failed to establish prima facie SEPA compliance; in fact, there was no compliance with SEPA for the Title 8 Ordinance whatsoever,” wrote the board in its final decision.

The county needed SEPA review and established compliance before creating the ordinance to provide evidence that it would not violate the Growth Management Act.

Since the second ordinance, under Title 18, was intended to harmonize with the Title 8 ordinance, the board remanded both ordinances to the county and imposed invalidity on the county’s adoption of the ordinances.

“Tarboo Ridge Coalition won it all,” said TRC board member Peter Newland. “The board ruled as best they could for everything we stood for and invalidated both ordinances.”

Now, the county must go back to the drawing board.

The board’s decision requires the county to fix the ordinances by March of 2020.

"We’ll be exploring our options in the coming days,” said commission chair Kate Dean. “This could mean asking for a reconsideration of the case, or an appeal.”

The other option, she said, would be to rewrite sections of the ordinances, which would require a public hearing process.

"The Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office is currently analyzing the Growth Management Hearings Board’s decision, and considering whether or not to recommend the county file a motion for reconsideration or to recommend filing an appeal," said county administrator Philip Morley. "The county expects to have a plan of action for how to address the decision shortly."

Last fall, the TRC rallied at Jefferson County Commission meetings and public hearings for stronger regulations on gun ranges in the county.

But in December, when a year-long moratorium on development of gun ranges ended and the commissioners approved an ordinance regulating the zoning of commercial shooting facilities, the TRC was left with concerns: would Fort Discovery owner and president Joe D’Amico’s proposed shooting facility, called Cedar Hills, impact the peace and solitude of the rural neighborhood?

The commissioners approved an ordinance that would require all commercial shooting facilities to be in compliance with the state Environmental Policy Act, submit a conditional use permit application for review by a hearing examiner, and submit an operating permit that requires a professional evaluation of proposed activities. The ordinance also limits night shooting to four hours per week for law enforcement and military training only, from dark until 10 p.m.

While those regulations are more than the county had two years ago, they were not enough for the TRC.

As soon as the commissioners approved the ordinance, Newland filed an appeal with the state Growth Management Hearings Board, challenging the adoption of the ordinance. The GMHB heard arguments from the TRC’s attorney, Alex Sidles and the county civil deputy prosecuting attorney Philip Hunsucker on May 31 and deliberated on the issue over the summer.

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