Gun club seeks appeal approval

Olympic Sportsman’s Club is fighting for the privilege of building its proposed multi-use complex in a forested area near the Bear Lake neighborhood.

Attorney William Lynn, representing the club’s developer, Phil Canter, appeared before the Kitsap County Hearing Examiner Thursday to appeal the county’s permit refusal. The county believes the club’s planned uses do not fit in with the surrounding forest and open space. Lynn, however, asked why anyone would want to put a gun club anywhere else but in the middle of unpopulated land.

Lynn pointed out that, according the the county’s zoning code, the club would be allowed in the middle of residential neighborhoods, but not out in the middle of nowhere.

“I can’t imagine a more absurd result I could bring up if I sat here and dreamed one all day,” he said.

Lynn also attacked the county’s interpretation of the code, saying the staff had read things into the code’s language that weren’t there.

The difficulty is that the zoning code is very strict about not allowing private facilities or single-use projects into areas that have been designated forest or open space. However, the code gives multi-use public facilities the chance to acquire conditional use permits, although it does not allow them outright.

Lynn is arguing that the club falls into the category of multi-use public facility. Meanwhile, the county maintains the complex fits into neither the code’s definition of public facility nor the code’s description of an allowable multi-use project.

“The interim rural forest (IRF) zone is supposed to be just for forest,” said Kelly Robinson, the planner representing the county at the hearing. “It’s a pretty restricted, resource-oriented kind of zoning.”

Robinson said even if Canter could somehow establish his proposed project as a public facility rather than a private one, the code still requires any multi-use development done in a forest-designated area to be done in conjunction with a public park.

Beyond that, he said the code specifically mentions gun clubs as a privately owned recreational use, even if they are open to the public.

“I’m sympathetic to his argument that gun clubs should be sited in more remote areas, but that’s not what the zoning said,” Robinson said.

Lynn disagreed, pointing out that the paragraphs of the code which apply to the issue at hand are in some cases vague and open to broad interpretation.

Canter wants to put a 20-acre gun club on a 120-acre piece of property just north of Bear Lake. The $3 million complex would have a pistol range, rifle range, trap and skeet shooting, meeting space, an RV park and a clubhouse with classrooms.

The Bear Lake residents who packed the hearing examiner’s chambers, however, felt nothing in either Lynn’s or Robinson’s arguments addressed the aggravation of having a major gun club go up practically next door. Many said they felt their neighborhood and the surrounding wilderness was no place for a major complex. The hearing examiner had to remind one woman several times that he could only hear comments relating to the land use code.

“The zoning code should take into consideration that this is forest,” said resident Linda Nelson, one of several who got up to speak. “You’re going to put a gun club out there?”

Canter said he will wait to hear what the hearing examiner decides, but doesn’t plan to stop fighting should the decision not go his way.

“Our intention is to go forward with that property,” he said. “We have some well-thought-out strategies we will implement if the hearing examiner doesn’t rule in our favor. We have not exhausted, by any means, our efforts.”

Canter said he wanted to work with the Bear Lake residents and the county to create a facility that would mitigate any impacts on the surrounding area, but doesn’t have any intention of abandoning the property. He also said that, if need be, several major national lobbying organizations — most specifically the National Rifle Organization — have offered their support in his fight.

“I don’t care if it takes a year; I don’t care if we go to court,” Canter said. “We are going to find a place for a new home (and) it’s one of the best sites in Kitsap for it.”

The hearing examiner expects to release his decision in approximately two weeks.

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