Let them shoot? Landowners ask for change in zoning

Staff writerFebruary 18, 2014 

For 12 years, Graham resident Mike Boone lived in a no-shooting zone without knowing.

That changed New Year’s Day when a Pierce County Sheriff’s deputy told him someone had complained about shooting and Boone couldn’t hunt there.

“None of the neighbors knew anything about it,” said Boone, who owns 40 acres. “That’s why we’re so up in arms.”

He’s one of several private property owners seeking to remove 148 acres in the Graham area from a no-shooting zone in East Pierce County.

The section is a sliver of a much larger no-shooting area the Pierce County Council approved in 2002 for the unincorporated Graham, Spanaway, Puyallup and South Hill areas. The entire area takes in 26,256 acres, or 41 square miles.

In the McMillin area, residents of a mobile home park have the opposite problem.

They want to create a no-shooting zone so they’ll be protected from noise they say is caused by hunters shooting nearby.

Sean Gaffney, the county’s long-range planning manager, said he was not aware of anyone trying to modify a no-shooting zone in the county since 2010.

Now the county must address two requests at the same time. It’s enlisting the seldom-used Firearms Advisory Commission to help.

The commission will weigh the request from Boone and his neighbors on Feb. 25. The panel will make a recommendation to the County Council, which will decide whether to modify the no-shooting zone.

Boone wants to continue hunting ducks, deer and elk — just as he has every year since moving to the 12800 block of 264th Street East in Graham in 1998.

Some of his neighbors have hunted regularly as well, not knowing they were in violation of the shooting prohibition, Boone said.

Senior planner Chad Williams said county code since 2004 has required the perimeter of no-shooting zones to be marked with signs in areas zoned for agriculture, forestry or with a rural designation. However, those signs are frequently destroyed by shooting, he said.

Attorney Carolyn Lake, who owns 39 acres in the area where Boone and the others hunt, says shooting should never have been banned. “It’s a matter of correcting a restriction that never should have been there to begin with,” she said.

State law says jurisdictions can restrict the discharge of firearms “where there is a reasonable likelihood that humans, domestic animals or property will be jeopardized.”

Lake said “there’s no demonstrated dangers to persons, domestic animals or property” in the affected area.

The 2002 county ordinance that established the no-shooting zone says there are many schools in the area, and that the Sheriff’s Department recommended the prohibition of shooting in the area.

Lake said there are no schools in the section she and her neighbors want the ordinance removed.

The County Council greatly expanded no-shooting zones 12 years ago to include about a third of unincorporated Pierce County, including growing suburbs such as Roy. For 50 years before that, most no-shooting zones were contained to small pockets, often added in a piecemeal way at the request of upset neighbors or school officials.

Getting property removed from or added to a no-shooting zone isn’t an easy process.

At least 60 percent of the registered voters who are property owners in the affected area must sign a petition calling for the change.

In the case of the Graham request, three valid signatures were turned in from among five property owners – just meeting the 60-percent requirement.

But the request from mobile home park residents in the McMillin area to set up a no-shooting zone failed to meet legal requirements because they are renters, not property owners.

Residents of the Noble Firs Estates turned in 31 valid signatures out of 87 registered voters who live in the area. They’re seeking to prohibit shooting from 500 to 1,000 feet from the southwest edge of the mobile home park’s property line.

Two residents wrote of incidents in September in which hunters were shooting within 30 feet of their properties.

“They were very noisy in their shooting and our pets were extremely terrified from the gun shots fired,” Charlotte Fink wrote.

The 29-acre mobile home park, at the 14800 block of 122nd Street East, is owned by Noble Firs Community LLC. The county’s next step is to see if the board for that limited liability corporation wants a no-shooting zone, Gaffney said.

For now, only the Graham request is advancing to the Firearms Advisory Commission.

The County Council created that commission in 2004 to make recommendations related to the use of firearms. The commission went without meeting for three years until last December because it didn’t have enough members for a quorum and didn’t have a reason to meet.

It now has five members – enough for a quorum – and some funding so that it can conduct business, Williams said. Steve Maynard: 253-597-8647 steve.maynard@thenewstribune.com @TNTstevemaynard

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