Borough Board Upholds Sutton Shooting Range

A dispute between two Sutton landowners highlights the challenges of zoning in the Matanuska Susitna Borough. The Borough’s board of adjustment was called to weigh-in Wednesday on a clash between two legal, but incompatible, businesses.

Download Audio:

A shooting range operating in Sutton has drawn criticism from an adjoining landowner. Chris Rose, who owns 20 acres in Sutton, says he has planed for years to use his land as a wedding event venue in partnership with an Anchorage florist.  Chris Rose:

“Folks in Sutton are concerned, justifiably so, about protecting the investments in their properties. And that’s why we have a Sutton Comprehensive Plan, that is why we have a special land use district. People like me rely on those things before we make investments in our property.”

But about a year ago, Rose says, he noted the sound of gunfire welling up over the bluff that separates his land from the Matanuska River.

That sound was coming from a shooting range operated by Alaska Tactical on property owned by Anchorage brothers Jim and Tim Kane. The Kanes own JTAC, a business that they call a “training facility”, that they run on their Sutton property. Tim Kane:

“Well JTAC doesn’t do the training. We just provide a facility for anybody who needs an outdoor recreational area to provide whatever services they have as a business, and we lease the property to those people.”

Kane says when JTAC opened for business, no Borough permit was required, because JTAC did not have a shooting range on site at first.

“We operated for two seasons and we didn’t have a complaint, nobody approached us. We attended the Sutton Community Council’s meetings to keep them up to date.”

But Alaska Tactical, a JTAC lessee, began using  the land for a private shooting range, without a permit.  It was a  year and a half, before anyone complained.

The complaint prompted the Kanes to get a special use permit, which was approved by the Borough Planning Commission last year. And the Sutton Community Council weighed in in favor of the permit, according to Community Council communications secretary Claudia Dolfi. Dolfi says that shooting is a Sutton pastime and that there are fourteen private shooting ranges in the area.

“At this point, having talked to neighbors and community members, it’s been discussed that if we had an outdoor shooting range and an indoor shooting range, same location, we’d all purchase memberships. We wouldn’t shoot on our own property anymore. It’s just more convenient. I think it would be a great advantage to our community.”

Dolfi says the shooting range could lead to area jobs.

But Rose appealed the planning commission’s decision to the Borough’s Board of Adjustment. Rose says the shooting range violates the Sutton Comprehensive Use Plan.

“I don’t think anybody could have reasonably thought that the Borough would allow a shooting range in a residential area, and that is what this is all about. Particularly on the thin record that was presented to the planning commission in the first place.”

In a judicial proceeding in Palmer on Wednesday, attorneys for the the Kanes and Rose argued their cases.  Teresa Clemmer, arguing for Rose,  cited quality of life and environmental concerns that she says the Borough planning commission overlooked.

“The planning commission has given no consideration to lead contamination in the soil” she told the board.

The Kane’s attorney, Jason Rueday, told the board that the owners of JTAC have followed the law.  Rueday said the planning commission’s decision was based on facts.

“We are in an area where shooting occurs,” Rueday told the board. ” I would submit that this facility is in character with the surrounding area.”

Several member of the public testified in favor of Rose’s position. But Sutton Community Council’s Dolfi handed the board a list of 80 names in favor of the shooting range permit. Mat Su Borouogh attorney Shannon Bodolay told the board that community sentiment is not part of the board’s decision. The board must decide only if the planning commission ‘s decision in favor of the special use permit is reasonable.   In the end, the three member board decided unanimously in favor of the planning commission’s decision to issue the shooting range permit.

Rose said Thursday that the shooting range permit is not based on substantial evidence, but he has not decided yet if he will appeal the board’s decision.  He has thirty days to decide to appeal.  If he does, the case moves to state Superior Court.