In hopes of putting an end to a three-year lawsuit, the local Fraternal Order of Police chapter and the Douglas County Commission have reached an truce.
The police group has agreed to seek a conditional-use permit for its decades-old firing range at its lodge near Lone Star Lake, 768 E. 661 Diagonal Road. The FOP also plans to meet with neighbors to discuss what restrictions they would want to see imposed on the property that acts as a training ground for Lawrence police officers and Douglas County Sheriff deputies.
“The county has encouraged the FOP to see what the restrictions would be, meet with neighbors to talk about concerns and maybe work everything out,” said Mike Riling, the attorney representing FOP. “It could be a good win-win for everyone.”
Several years ago, neighbors complained they could hear gunshots at night near the lodge. Upon further investigation, the county realized it had never officially grandfathered in the use of a firing range or approved any special permits for it.
In 2007, the FOP filed a lawsuit after the county asked the organization to seek a conditional-use permit for the 95-acre tract that the group has owned for more than 40 years.
Last summer, Douglas County District Judge Peggy Kittel ruled in favor of the county commission on two main issues in the lawsuit.
The FOP had argued that the club is zoned as a “country club” and therefore didn’t need a conditional-use permit for the firing range.
Kittel ruled that FOP’s property doesn’t fall under the country club classification, and even if it did, the FOP would still need to obtain a permit to use firearms there. Several issues remained that Kittel hasn’t ruled on.
The agreement between FOP and the county stops legal proceedings until June 1. The county has said it would not use the FOP’s conditional-use permit application against the organization if the issue were to return to court.
“That has been the sticking point up until now,” said Evan Ice, an attorney for Douglas County. “They were afraid if they applied and didn’t get (a conditional-use permit) or got one with a lot of conditions attached to it, they were going to be stuck.”
If the FOP doesn’t like the county’s final decision on the conditional-use permit, it can return to court and take up the issues that Kittel hasn’t ruled on. If that would happen, both parties noted an appeal to the Kansas Court of Appeals would be likely.
“Everyone’s a little tired of litigation. We want to see if we can’t come up with a settlement everyone can be happy with,” Riling said.