Gun club seeks new site

After two and a half years of fighting Kitsap County for permission to build an outdoor shooting range near Bear Lake, Olympic Sportsman’s Club developers have decided to scrap that site and start looking for a new one.

Lead developer Scott Edwards, who replaced Phil Canter on the $3 million project, said the original site — 120 acres of land located just off Lake Flora Road — proved too challenging to build on. The first proposed site of the actual range appeared to be too close for its residential neighbors’ comfort and when project planners attempted to shift the range to a different part of the property, work got bogged down — literally.

“What we ended up with was too much wet property there,” Edwards said. “It has so much water on it, we’d have to go through both the Department of Ecology and the Army Corps of Engineers. That would delay the project for at least five years.”

Unwilling to wait that long, Edwards said he is now in discussions with the Overman family and other major South Kitsap landholders to try and find a more appropriate site.

Because the project will need at least 100 acres for proper safety and noise control, Edwards said he may have better luck with the vast open lands south of Bremerton National Airport.

Even if he does find another site, however, the decision to abandon the Bear Lake site has delayed the project for months, if not years.

“Everything is site-specific, so you have to go back to square one,” Edwards said. “It’s a long, arduous process to say the least.”

In October 2001, Canter announced he had his eye on a 120-acre property near Bear Lake and planned to build a private gun club there. The county Board of Commissioners originally approved the project, but later reversed decision after a series of appeals that took the case through the office of the county hearing examiner. Last June, a Kitsap County Superior Court judge ruled the club did have the right to build, ending the appeals process.

From the very beginning, residents of nearby Bear Lake and May Ranch communities vehemently objected to the project, saying it would permanently disrupt their quiet way of life. They filed numerous appeals, but ultimately gave up, vowing to restart the fight after the club’s developers filed their permit requests.

Now, the county and the Bear Lake/May Ranch residents are unsure of what to think of this new development. County planner Jeff Smith said he was surprised the club developers didn’t jump at the chance to build as soon as their appeal went through. The group did submit a permit application for the first site early this year, Smith said, but it was so full of holes it had to be returned.

“As of right now, I don’t know what’s going on out there,” he said. “It’s kind of odd — they put a lot of time and energy on it.”

Bear Lake resident Kathleen Ottarson, who led the fight against the gun club, said her group had recommended a site near the airport long ago. She said she was thrilled to hear developers were finally considering that option — the group had never opposed the gun club, per se, just its proposed location.

“This is great news,” Ottarson said.

Edwards is optimistic some final solution will be found. The Gig Harbor Gun Club, which will be the primary user of the new facility, has recently received permission to keep its Gig Harbor range up and running and therefore can afford to wait a bit longer for Olympic.

However, Edwards said the club members are eager to move into a less urban area. Increased development near the Gig Harbor facility has led to some very highly publicized incidents and near-misses that have tarnished the club’s reputation.

“They don’t want to be in Gig Harbor,” Edwards said. “They’re not making a lot of friends over there.”

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