PORT TOWNSEND — In an emotional 2-1 vote, the Jefferson County commissioners approved the ordinance aimed to “harmonize” Title 18 of the Jefferson County Code with the commercial shooting facilities ordinance.
Commission Chair David Sullivan, District 2, and Commissioner Kathleen Kler, District 3, voted to adopt the ordinance Friday afternoon with minor changes as recommended by Chief Civil Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Philip Hunsucker and Department of Community Development Director Patty Charnas and staff.
Commissioner Kate Dean, District 1, voted no.
The legislation regulates the operation and siting of commercial shooting facilities in rural Jefferson County and bases land-use regulations on current State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) and conditional use permits.
Staff rejected the recommendations made by the Planning Commission that were determined to be unenforceable and possibly in conflict with Second Amendment rights.
If no decision had been made at Friday’s meeting, the one-year moratorium on commercial shooting facilities would have expired Monday and would have allowed permit applications to be accepted under old regulations.
“I thought maybe marijuana was going to be the hard issue, but the shooting range has been the most excruciating issue of my term,” said Kler as she spoke to what would likely be her last major vote before her term ends Dec. 31.
“It is up to us using the law of the land, to use the law that references the 14th Amendment, that everything we do needs to be equal for each of our citizens and that often means that we are not going to be pleasing everyone.
“I’m expecting that displeasure because there are a lot of steps ahead. Does the conditional use permit, does SEPA, give us enough protection? We are going to have to find out.”
Dean expressed her thoughts from prepared remarks.
“I have lived, breathed, cried and studied, and agonized over gun ranges non-stop throughout 2018. I will not be sad to see it go,” said Dean.
“I hope that operating permits, SEPA and conditional use permits in this process are successful in striking the right balance for new and existing shooting ranges. I hope we no longer hear every week from neighbors who can’t garden or host friends and family due to the sounds of shooting. I hope businesses will engage in dialogue about how to minimize impacts. Most of all, I hope civil dialogue will prevail over some of the accusations we’ve heard.”
Sullivan was comfortable with the recommendation. He said when a conditional permit goes before a hearing examiner, SEPA identifies conditions that must be met.
“The conditional use permit criteria has a lot of protections in it,” Sullivan said. “When I read what the approval criteria is, it has to be harmonious and appropriate and designed to fit into the character and appearance with the existing or intended character of the development that’s in the vicinity.
“If conditions aren’t met, the application can be pulled,” he said. “Enforcement gives us a tool to use to make sure people are compliant.”
Hunsucker briefly reviewed “considerations on how to harmonize” the documents.
“The regulations must be universal and uniform in their effect and remain workable for the long term, and not regulate a specific parcel or project,” he said.
“Regulations must be consistent with the U.S. Constitution, and Washington state Constitution and statutes. We’ve tried to make it so regulations are not inconsistent with other parts of Jefferson County code.”
Hunsucker said staff did not recommend any of the changes proposed by the Planning Commission because “they violate all the other principles.”
Kler said maintaining the quiet nature of a rural atmosphere has been a challenge to legislate.
“I know that one of the most difficult discussions we’ve been having, and Commissioner Dean, has been the champion for, is a period of repose,” Kler said.
“What we’ve struggled with is finding more scientific data or rationale as to when the period is, against the noise of gunfire and leaf blowers.
“How do we live with each other?,” she said. “There are areas in the county that are already acknowledged as peaceful havens, and therefore is any new business contrary to any established in the neighborhood? That’s ahead.”
Dean said through all briefing sessions and work sessions, she and her colleagues considered all the comments received from public testimony and committees.
“I have pushed as hard as I can and we’ve come to the ordinance as it is today without potential for further change. What I’ve heard from staff is this is as far as they can go with insuring equal protection, a very real constitutional concern.
“I feel a little defeated in that we can’t do much more with this.”
Sullivan asked for the vote and voted yes. After a long delay, Kler said yes. Dean said nay.
The meeting was witnessed by about 50 community members who listened to an hour of discussion. A storm was brewing outside of the Northwest Maritime Center meeting room, with wind battering the windows and lights flickering on several occasions.
Several people were displeased with the commissioners’ action.
Riley Parker, a member of the Tarboo Ridge Coalition who served on the review committee, said it seems to be “a common theme that the commissioners are accepting staff recommendations.”
Parker was disappointed that the 500-yard setback from water rule that he championed was not in the final plan.
“Land use codes are all about setbacks,” Parker said.” And, to not have some kind of setback, it doesn’t provide any regulation. It seems whatever they pass, they don’t enforce anyway.”
As soon as the vote was taken, Peter Newland of the Tarboo Ridge Coalition pushed send on an email that he wrote to the group’s attorney during the commissioners’ discussion. The message advised him of the action and requested that he proceed with an appeal to the Growth Management Hearing Board.
“It’s just begun,” Newland said.
To view the meeting and read related documents, visit https://tinyurl.com/PDN-ShootingFacilitiesVote.
Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Jeannie McMacken can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at [email protected].