A storm brewed outside the Northwest Maritime Center on Friday as the board of county commissioners gathered to vote on an ordinance that specifies regulations on shooting facilities.
As Commission Chair David Sullivan of District 2 called for a vote, there was a pregnant pause. The only sounds were the waves crashing outside and the wind whipping against the side of the building as the audience of about 30 people waited.
Quietly, commissioner Kathleen Kler of District 3 said “Aye.”
Then there was another pause, as Commissioner Kate Dean of District 1 remained silent.
“Hearing no other votes, I’ll vote ‘aye,’” Sullivan said, after a few moments, finalizing the 2-1 passing of the ordinance, just days before the year-long moratorium on any development to shooting facilities was to expire on
The legislation means those who hope to develop a commercial shooting facility must be in compliance with the state Environmental Policy Act, submit a conditional use permit application that will be reviewed by a hearing examiner, and submit an operating permit which will require a professional evaluation of proposed activities.
“Today we find ourselves in a place where we have much greater protections for the communities than we had a year ago,” Sullivan said at Monday’s regular business meeting.
But the final changes fall short of the recommendations of the citizen planning commission, which had been appointed by the board to provide input. The citizens’ commission had recommended limiting hours at facilities, requiring setbacks from water and stricter noise abatement, and prohibiting law enforcement and military training at facilities.
On Dec. 10, commissioners heard three hours of public comment, during which some members of the public asked for an extension of the moratorium.
The commissioners instead made changes brought forward by county staff members.
“Regulations must be universal and uniform in their effect; that’s why we don’t regulate for a specific parcel or project. … They also must be consistent with other parts of the code,” said Philip Hunsucker, civil deputy prosecuting attorney. “Staff does not recommend any of those changes, primarily because they violate all these principles.”
The ordinance makes changes to Title 18, which deals with zoning of commercial shooting facilities. This ordinance works in conjunction with a Title 8 ordinance commissioners passed in November which deals with public health and safety.
Changes include fixing inconsistencies in language between the two ordinances.
“Our overall recommendation on the new design-use standards developed by the planning commission would be not to adopt additional siting, design or operational limitations beyond the existing laws,” said Austin Watkins, a planning manager with the Department of Community Development. “And to use the existing time-tested and current SEPA and conditional use permit process.”
But Dean, who voted against the ordinance, had hoped the legislation could add “predictable periods of quiet” for those who live near shooting facilities.
“When do second-amendment rights take precedence over the right to use and enjoy neighboring property?” Dean asked. “I don’t think there is a solution that will satisfy most of you.”
Dean said she trusted Hunsucker’s recommendations.
“It’s my job to push, and it’s their job to use their best judgment to keep the county out of court,” Dean said. “With (Hunsucker’s) vast experience, I won’t ask him to go beyond his professional ethics. And similarly I cannot go beyond mine.”
Kler, who is nearing the end of her term as commissioner, said the shooting facilities issue has been the most excruciating of her term.
“We are sailing into uncharted waters,” Kler said. “There are a lot of steps ahead. Does the conditional use permit, does SEPA give us enough protection? We’re going to have to find out, and I hope there aren’t dragons as we explore those waters.”
While the vote had a feeling of finality, the debate is far from over. Immediately after the vote, the Tarboo Ridge Coalition, which opposes the proposed shooting facility at Tarboo Lake, filed an appeal to the state Growth Management Hearings Board.
“We are all very disappointed,” Peter Newland said. “We worked our tails off to try and give them a different view point. … But this is far from over. We will look to an impartial body to see what they say.”
Meanwhile, Fort Discovery training facility filed a lawsuit on Nov. 21, challenging the validity of the shooting facilities ordinance that requires shooting facilities to obtain operating permits. Fort Discovery is owned by Joe D’Amico, who has proposed opening a new shooting facility near Tarboo Lake north of Quilcene.
At the commissioners meeting Dec. 17, several members of the public called into question the commissioners’ process throughout the creation of the two ordinances.
“Maybe you heard us, but I don’t think you really listened to the hearts of the people,” said Fern Stroble, who owns Tarboo Creek Honey in Quilcene. “You don’t cave to a bully. They just get stronger.”