A Douglas County judge is deciding whether to rule in favor of the County Commission or the local Fraternal Order of Police chapter over a firing range at the FOP lodge southwest of Lawrence.
The FOP Lodge No. 2 filed the suit in 2007 intending to resolve a dispute about whether the 95-acre tract of land violates land-use policies because of a firing range there that has existed for decades.
“While the county could have insisted on a conditional-use permit back when any of these building permits were issued, it should be estopped from making that demand now, 30 years after the fact,” FOP attorney Mike Riling wrote in a recent court motion.
But county leaders said they have not found any documents to say the shooting range was ever legally permitted on the lodge property. The FOP’s property, 768 E. 661 Diagonal Road, is home to a training ground for Lawrence police, the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office and other area law enforcement agencies.
“To stop Douglas County from being able to enforce those requirements would be against justice and equity and interfere with the proper exercise of county functions,” attorney Chris Burger wrote in a court motion for the county.
Lawyers for the county and the FOP have both filed motions asking District Judge Peggy Kittel to rule in favor of their side prior to a trial.
The FOP filed the suit but is not seeking any monetary damages, but only a ruling in its favor so it won’t have to seek a conditional-use permit for the firing range. The county is asking the FOP to go through the formal process of seeking a permit for the firing range.
The dispute developed about three years ago when neighbors called the county and made a noise complaint about hearing gunshots at night near the lodge.
County officials said they then checked their records for the lodge property but didn’t find documents supporting special permits for a firing range. The FOP obtained the grounds in 1967, according to the lawsuit, and three years later it received a permit to construct a lodge at the site.
Riling has argued the county assured the FOP the firing range was proper for decades because sheriff’s officers train there. He has said records should exist to verify that and the FOP should not be punished by “sloppy record-keeping.”
But Burger has said it is the FOP’s failure for not following land-use regulations and must submit a plan to go through a proper approval process for the firing range.
The two sides argued their cases at an Aug. 4 hearing in Kittel’s court room. She is considering whether to rule in favor of one side or order a trial instead.