PORT TOWNSEND — Jefferson County commissioners unanimously agreed to enter into mediation with Fort Discovery Inc., over what the moratorium on new shooting ranges means for Joe D’Amico’s proposed facility near Tarboo Lake.
“The crux of this issue is that Mr. D’Amico has rights,” said Commissioner Kate Dean. “When he purchased his property he purchased a bundle of rights that go with that property and there are a lot of people who wish he didn’t have those rights.”
D’Amico’s proposed shooting and archery range would sit on 40 acres near Tarboo Lake that he purchased for $592,000. The facility, which would be called Cedar Hills Recreational Facility, would train local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, private citizens and diplomats, D’Amico has said.
Dean said mediation will help determine how D’Amico’s rights interact with the conditional use permit process, the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA), the moratorium and neighbors’ concerns.
The mediation, being made at the request of the Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, will include Jefferson County, Fort Discovery and Joe D’Amico. The mediator is William Downing of JAMS, a former Superior Court judge from King County who was recommended by D’Amico.
Chief Civil Prosecuting Attorney Phillip Hunsucker said the mediation is non-binding and can be ended by either party at any time.
Any decisions made during the closed-door sessions would have to be approved in open session.
“If the mediation ends up being successful and some form of tentative agreement is reached … that agreement would still be tentative and would need to come back to the full Board of County Commissioners in open session … before the county could agree to anything,” said County Administrator Philip Morley.
Hunsucker said the issue is a disagreement about how the moratorium applies to D’Amico’s business.
Commissioners put the moratorium in place Dec. 18, following a three-hour executive session.
“The purpose and scope of the mediation is to explore whether we can reach an understanding about the path forward for the permitting process that complies with all existing laws and avoids expensive and time consuming litigation that would divert both parties from their priorities,” Hunsucker said. “We hope to reach some sort of agreement.”
He said the moratorium is not specifically targeted at D’Amico’s proposal, but is meant to address commercial shooting ranges in the entire county.
Commissioners have said county code is silent when it comes to commercial shooting ranges.
The goal is to come up with “some sort of comprehensive way of dealing with [shooting ranges] as population continues to grow in our county,” Hunsucker said.
D’Amico told commissioners Tuesday that his project is vested.
“We started the application process,” he said. “We pulled a well permit and have done the pre-application.”
The decision to enter into mediation with D’Amico followed about half an hour of public comment, much of which urged commissioners to reconsider.
Peter Newland, representing the Tarboo Ridge Coalition — a group of homeowners opposed to D’Amico’s proposal — told commissioners they should delay entering into mediation for at least a week.
He told commissioners that if they do agree to mediation, Tarboo Ridge Coalition should be allowed to attend because it is a “party of record in this matter.”
“The assertion that an individual or corporation that has promoted a concept, but has not submitted an application to vest itself is somehow not subject to the moratorium, is nonsense,” he said.
“The moratorium ordinance language is plain on its face and pre-submittal documents do not constitute an application and therefore cannot be grandfathered.”
Newland said later he is disappointed in the decision to enter mediation.
“TRC as an organization is highly skeptical mediation can work, given a long history that we all know,” he said.
A public hearing on the moratorium is scheduled for 6 p.m. Feb. 5 in the Jefferson County Superior Court courtroom, 1820 Jefferson St., Port Townsend.
Dean said there is distrust on both sides of the issue, but that she is entering into mediation in good faith.
“I’m entering this with cautious good faith that we will be able to mediate with the other party,” she said. “I hope that good faith will be met by the other side.”
Reporter Jesse Major can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56250, or at [email protected].