WASHINGTON CITY — The Washington City Council heard but deferred decision on an appeal brought before it by Dixie GunWorx last night, seeking to put an indoor shooting range in its building. Though the council ultimately left the matter undecided, a decision is likely to be rendered within the next 10 days.
The appeal stemmed from Dixie GunWorx’ request being voted down by the city’s planning commission earlier this month, in apparent deference to the Erin Kimball Memorial Foundation’s protest. The Kimball Foundation opposes the indoor shooting range arguing it would be upsetting to the women and children it plans to shelter in its home, on a neighboring property, a home being renovated to serve people who have been victimized by domestic abuse.
Dixie GunWorx has neighbored the Kimball Foundation’s property since January, but new tension has arisen since Dixie Gun Worx sought city approval for an indoor gun range facility.
City council consideration of the appeal
Approximately 40 people attended the council meeting Tuesday — most from Dixie GunWorx and the Erin Kimball foundation – and each hoped to have the opportunity to be heard.
Councilman Ron Truman, who is running against incumbent Ken Neilson for mayor, said individuals have a constitutional right to bear arms and questioned whether limitations should be placed on them while also considering the appropriateness of the facility and its proximity to the Kimball Foundation. Truman also said he thought that with the sound issue being mitigated, he didn’t see it presenting a concern for the Kimball Foundation.
Washington City Community Development Director Drew Ellerman was called upon by the council to speak first.
Ellerman previously recommended approval of the Dixie GunWorx facility and said he continues to stand by that decision.
When the Kimball Foundation purchased its property over a year ago, it gained permission from the city to convert the zoning for its lot to downtown mixed use. It’s purpose was to provide living situations for women and children fleeing from unsafe environments. Founder Sue Kimball said that the women and children residing there would be those closest to violence, those having just fled the situation. She said that more permanent homes for these women and children would be provided later.
Chapter 17 of the Washington City Code was read aloud at the council meeting. It states that conditional use permits may only be granted when there is proof to the effect that, “the proposed use, at the particular location, is necessary or desirable to provide a service or facility which will contribute to the general well-being of the neighborhood and community; and that such use will not, under the circumstances of the particular case, be detrimental to the health, safety or general welfare of persons residing or working in the vicinity, or injurious to property or improvement in the vicinity.”
“I have a concealed weapon permit and would love to get a facility like this somewhere in Washington City,” Commissioner Rick Schofield, said. “but we have to deal with all citizens. I can help find alternate locations.”
“There has been domestic violence in my own family line,” Councilman Thad Seegmiller, who is running for re-election this year, said. “Some fear firearms while others feel empowered by being able to use them.”
He expressed his concerns about the facilities’ proximity to women and children who have just fled a violent situation, and called upon Cheryl Sim, a local woman who just escaped an abusive relationship, to speak to the council.
“Fences look like prison,” Sim said, standing before the council, “and I was padlocked in a prison-like environment and seeing one across the street may bring me right back to that negative environment.”
Sim said she suffers from post traumatic stress disorder and spends a lot of time at the Kimball foundation receiving help and volunteering.
Options presented to the council by Ellerman were for customers to bring items in a gun case, and also to alert future customers to conceal their weapons from the car to the facility.
Other proposed options were brick walls, landscaping with tall trees to help block the view and create a sight distance between the Kimball Foundation and Dixie Gun Worx, and to mitigate the sound.
“It’s not just a matter of noise abatement,” Kimball said. “PTSD can be triggered on a cellular level.”
Ellerman also suggested a third party inspection process to ensure proper installation of items and products within the building.
“I support the right to bear arms for recreation and self-defense,” Seegmiller said, “but safety of the facility falls on the business owner.”
The council said that they need to decide if this is detrimental to the health, safety, or welfare of citizens and question how it is injurious to the neighbor.
“What conditions would be placed in the application going forward if the conditional use permit were denied?” Truman said. “It would have to be considered.”
Council forecloses comments
The council was clear they did not intend to bring new information forward and that it is difficult to place new conditions onto a facility that is already there.
“We were required to send out notice of the appeal,”Dixie GunWorx co-owner Jacob Cooper said, approaching the council. “Why? What is the purpose of attendance at this meeting?”
“This is a public open meeting, but it doesn’t mean you get to participate,” Councilman Jeff Turek said. “So you can see the process, not necessarily speak.”
“We believed we were going to have an opportunity to participate,” Cooper said. “I know you’ve never done this before, and neither have we.”
Cooper said he thought everyone had a different expectation of what was going to happen and that Dixie GunWorx wanted to speak, but if the council said no, he would abide by that decision and be silent.
Many people in attendance had prepared to speak. The council chose not to open the floor up to the public and motioned to adjourn to deliberate behind closed doors.
“I wish it would have been more open,” Chris Michel, CEO of Dixie GunWorx, said. “I appreciate the council following the law of the land, but we were under the impression we would speak.”
The council didn’t make a decision Tuesday. Jeff Starkey, city attorney, said a written decision would be issued in the next 10 days.
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Ed. note: An Ellerman quote pertaining to zoning usage has been questioned and therefore removed pending clarification.
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