PORT TOWNSEND — Jefferson County commissioners will begin forming a citizens’ advisory committee in January to address shooting-range issues after they imposed a maximum yearlong moratorium on permitting new commercial ranges — while figuring out how to make them compatible with residences.
The board’s unanimous decision Monday, which the three commissioners made under their police powers, followed a three-hour executive session that was capped by about 10-15 minutes of comments from commissioners in public session.
Commissioner David Sullivan, who will be the commissioners’ chairman in 2018, said that the closed-door meeting was held under the potential-litigation exemption in the state Open Public Meetings Act.
Joe D’Amico wants to build a gun and archery range near Tarboo Lake in a project that the moratorium puts on hold.
D’Amico told Peninsula Daily News in a story published Oct. 29 that he wants to build a shooting and archery range on 40 acres west of Tarboo Lake and call it Cedar Hills Recreational Facility. A month earlier, on Sept. 25, he bought two, 20-acre parcels for $592,000.
His training facility at Discovery Bay shut down its operations in October after 31 years in business in anticipation of moving to the Tarboo area.
D’Amico would not be interviewed Tuesday about the commissioners’ action, referring to a statement he released Monday.
“At this point, we are 1) continuing with our effort to obtain a permit for Cedar Hills Recreational Facility, and 2) reviewing our legal options regarding the commercial gun ranges,” D’Amico said.
Said Sullivan: “We want to do any kind of moratorium before that application, not after.”
D’Amico suggested in an email Tuesday that he has legal standing to say the permitting process has begun.
“It is our opinion that we have already started on our land use permit due to our participation since last summer in the Pre-Application Process as required by the Jefferson County Department of Community Development,” he said.
“We are reviewing all of our legal options, including our property rights, and our Constitutional rights under the Second Amendment.”
Under the ordinance, commissioners will hire a consultant to compile information on indoor and outdoor ranges at a cost to the county of an estimated $5,000-$10,000, Sullivan said.
The nine-person committee will include representatives of county shooting facilities, county officials and one resident or property owner from each of the county’s three districts.
“I invite [D’Amico] to participate in the process, to be on the committee,” Sullivan said.
A hearing on the moratorium will be conducted within 60 days, although the countywide ban will last longer than that so the consultant and committee can do their jobs, Sullivan said.
The temporary ban came amid mounting public concern over noise and safety issues surrounding the Jefferson County Sportsmen’s Association shooting range, located on county property on Gun Club Road just outside the Port Townsend city limits, as well as D’Amico’s proposal.
“We’ve had a lot of emails about these issues, a moratorium or disallowing this kind of use,” Sullivan said, calling an outright ban “extreme.”
“We need to look at how to [allow shooting ranges], how to do it well, how to fit it in Jefferson County,” he said.
The impact of D’Amico’s proposal “has been heightened awareness in these kind of uses in the community, and where they can fall,” Sullivan said.
“It’s about the issues we’ve had with [the] gun range on our property as a county and issues with no-shooting areas around the county.
“You have more and more people living in the county, so you have more and more nuisance kinds of conflicts, and noise is kind of one of those nuisances.”
Sullivan said the county Sheriff’s Department also recently investigated a complaint that a trailer had been shot with bullet holes in the line of sight of the Sportsmen’s Association’s shooting range.
The sheriff’s department determined that the bullets probably did not come from the shooting range, Sullivan said.
But the incident “called [in]to question the safety of commercial shooting facilities,” according to the ordinance.
D’Amico said he was taken aback by the board’s action, calling it a “surprise decision.”
“At 5:29 pm Monday, I received a courtesy call from Jefferson County Administrator Philip Morley, and Chief Civil Prosecuting Attorney Philip Hunsucker,” he said in the statement.
“They advised me of the Jefferson Board of County Commissioners’ surprise decision to impose an anti-business moratorium that is aimed specifically at my business — no other entity is proposing to establish a commercial gun range.
“This item was not on the commission’s published agenda for Dec. 18, so the public had no opportunity to comment in advance of the decision.”
“My company has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars this year in an effort to comply with the existing county code which provides a legal avenue to develop a recreational facility and commercial shooting range; shooting ranges are allowed under state law.
“We have been working closely with Jefferson Department of Community Development staff and have engaged subject matter experts in our effort to fully comply with the county code.
“We are willing to take our chances with this proposal in front of a Hearings Examiner; opponents have the same opportunity.”
“Now, bowing to apparent political pressure, the commissioners and other elected officials are allowing gun range opponents who are specifically against the proposed use of property I own on Tarboo Ridge to help write the rules under which I would be invited to apply for permits.”
Sullivan said as the county, and the area around Port Townsend, has grown in population, the commissioners had no choice but to act as they did.
Senior Staff Writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at [email protected].