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Gun club project gets go-ahead from judge

In what promises to be the final chapter — for now — in the gun club versus concerned local residents saga, Kitsap County Superior Court Judge Anna Laurie ruled Olympic Sportsman’s Club does have the right to apply to the county to build a private gun club in South Kitsap.

In her opinion, Laurie at least partially agreed with the club’s attorney, who argued the county commissioners acted unlawfully and made an incorrect interpretation of county zoning codes when they ruled against the gun club last fall. She said she could not find any errors of law in the record, but upheld the gun club’s position that the county went overboard when reading between the lines of the zoning code.

“The ordinance in question is not ambiguous and consequently ‘construction’ or ‘interpretation’ is not necessary,” Laurie stated in her published ruling. “Objectively the language of the ordinance is clear; it is only the reasons behind the language that gives rise to the dispute between the county and Olympic Sportsman’s Club.”

The ruling was returned May 27, although court error kept it unavailable until last Friday.

The zoning ordinance at the center of the debate states private recreational facilities are not allowed in rural areas, such as the heavily forested area the club proposes to develop. However, the ordinance also says private facilities are allowed in combination with hotels or motels, RV parks and/or meeting facilities.

This, said Laurie, is the only issue that needs to be considered in deciding whether a gun club should be allowed to set up shop. Therefore, because the gun club developers included an RV park and meeting facilities in their plan, technically their facility is conditionally allowed under county code.

Despite the court finding, the residents of May Ranch and Bear Lake — two settlements neighboring the proposed gun club site — still say a gun club does not belong slap in the middle of pristine forests.

Bear Lake resident Kathleen Ottarson, who has been leading the fight against the gun club, said the gun club will be a blight on the community. She said no matter what the club’s primary developer Phil Canter says, there is no way to contain the noise from a facility that will have both indoor and outdoor gun-related activities.

“The noise will be deadening out here,” Ottarson said. “I don’t care what they do to lessen it. It will lessen our peace and tranquility; it will devastate our property values.”

Canter has said numerous times in the past that the $3 million facility will be designed with noise muffling in mind. For instance, he said, the 10-acre shooting ground will be surrounded by 110 acres of woodland, which will be left in its natural state to act as a sound buffer.

Canter did not return phone messages left seeking comment on Monday

County Commissioner Chris Endresen, who voted against the gun club and is the only current county commissioner who was around when the zoning code was adopted, said she naturally doesn’t agree with Laurie’s decision. However, she was happy Laurie did not find the commissioners committed procedural errors during their ruling process.

The important thing, she said, is to get the code cleaned up so the board of commissioners doesn’t run into this problem again in the future.

“I was on the board when we created the ordinance and that (Laurie’s interpretation) was not our intent,” Endresen said. “It clearly needs to be revisited.”

Endresen said an update for the rural zoning code is in the works for this year’s county comprehensive plan amendments. The bent of the update may not make a lot of rural residents happy, though. Endresen said the county staff has re-written the zoning ordinance to make it more permissive — not less.

In addition, gun clubs are now being specifically mentioned as conditionally permitted uses.

The proposed changes are now in the hands of the county planning commission, which was expected to start its hearings on the matter yesterday.

Ottarson said although her neighbors are disappointed with Laurie’s ruling, the fight isn’t over by any means. She said they plan to vehemently oppose the conditional use permit the club must now obtain from the county to start construction — the 18 months of battles were waged over the club’s right to ask for a permit, not the permit itself.

“We are not done,” Ottarson said. “We will fight them every step of the way.”

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