Almost a year to the date after the public hearing on Jefferson County’s first attempt to regulate shooting ranges in Jefferson County, many of the faces at the hearing on this year’s …
Almost a year to the date after the public hearing on Jefferson County’s first attempt to regulate shooting ranges in Jefferson County, many of the faces at the hearing on this year’s attempt were familiar: Tarboo Ridge Coalition members and Jefferson County Sportsmen’s Association members fearful their grandfathered-in rifle range is in peril.
Missing from the Nov. 5 hearing: shooting range developer Joe D’Amico, nor any proponents of his “Cedar Hills” project.
The hearing in 2018 was to discuss a draft ordinance that would require gun ranges to obtain operating permits, a process that would include passing a list of public health and safety requirements.
Back then, those wearing a badge demonstrating their membership to the Jefferson County Sportsmen’s Association said: “Don’t threaten the health of a long-standing public institution for gun safety training.” Meanwhile, those with “Tarboo Ridge Coalition” badges pinned to their lapels said: “Let’s keep gun ranges small, recreational and regulated.”
The message from the public who attended the hearing on Nov. 5 was largely the same as the year prior. But there was also a feeling of disappointment in the government process, after the Board of County Commissioners ignored the Planning Commission’s recommendations and many of the citizens’ asks for more bright line regulations last year.
Tarboo Ridge Coalition board president called it a “legacy of mistrust,” while others expressed that they felt the public hearing and planning commission process would not make a difference.
“You are but a formality,” said John Tevis, of Port Hadlock, before the planning commission. “I am but a formality. This entire room is but a formality. It’s demoralizing.”
This time, members of the public were commenting on two ordinances, one that regulates the operations of shooting ranges in Jefferson County and one that regulates the siting and development of shooting ranges. Both ordinances had been challenged by the Tarboo Ridge Coalition and were struck down by the state’s Growth Management Hearing Board for not complying with the Growth Management Act.
Now, the planning commission has to review the ordinances, just like they did last year, and make recommendations to the elected Board of County Commissioners who will make changes and adopt them by March 2020 in the hopes that they now pass muster in the eyes of the state.
But the planning commission cannot make recommendations until they hear from the public.
Nearly 200 attended the hearing on Nov. 5—a greater attendance than the 2018 hearing—as five members of the county’s volunteer planning commission listened to testimony from 38 people, lasting nearly three hours.
Many members of the JSCA showed up with their membership cards visible, pleading with the planning commissioners to support their longstanding club. Meanwhile, supporters of the TRC asked the planning commissioners to add some bright line regulations into the two ordinances.
“What we heard a lot of was that people thought that some of the language in Title 8 has the potential to shut down the existing shooting range, the Sportsmen’s Association,” said Lorna Smith, one of the planning commissioners. “I’m committed to finding a way that won’t impact the existing range.”
While proponents of the Sportsmen’s Association spoke about the benefits of the gun club for the community and law enforcement training, Tarboo Ridge Coalition members and supporters agreed that the gun club is valuable, but also spoke about adding more regulations to the ordinances.
“TRC is not anti-gun or anti-military,” said Scott Freeman, board president of the TRC.
The TRC is hoping the planning commission will help define shooting ranges in the county as “small-scale and recreational.”
This means limiting shooting ranges to local law enforcement training only (banning military training at ranges), requiring set operating hours of 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., requiring a maximum of 10 firing points, and requiring a 500-yard setback from shorelines (streams and lakes) and wetlands/wetland-buffers.
The Sportsmen’s Association already meets many of these proposed requirements. In fact, a new licensing agreement with the county altered the gun club’s hours to lessen its impact on neighbors. Now, the range is closed to all gunfire on Mondays and closed the last Sunday of each month. They are open Tuesday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
This new licensing agreement is good until 2040. It includes provisions from the Title 8 ordinance, but not from Title 18.
“If Title 8 gets amended in such a way that is more stringent, the Sportsmen’s Association would need to comply with those provisions,” said county administrator Philip Morley. “Title 18 applies to new facilities, and not an existing facility like the Sportsmen’s Association.”
There is one person in particular who will be directly affected by any changes to the two ordinances. Joe D’Amico, owner of Fort Discovery, has already cleared and graded wetlands, without a permit, on his property near Tarboo Lake to build what he calls his “dream facility.”
While the planning commission vice chair, Cynthia Koan explained that the ordinances are “for no particular proposal,” it is undeniable that new regulations would affect D’Amico’s business.
But no proponent of D’Amico’s range spoke at the public hearing in favor of his business.
“If there was not a belief that the new ordinance would put the Sportsmen’s Association out of business, then there would not have been any opposition to the ordinances at all,” Smith said.
The planning commission must discuss the results of the public hearing and make their recommendations to the Board of County Commissioners by Dec. 4. Their next meeting is at 5:30 p.m. on Nov. 13 at the Tri-Area Community Center.