A Douglas County judge has ruled in favor of the county commission on two main issues in a dispute with the local Fraternal Order of Police chapter.
The lawsuit centers on zoning issues and a firing range at the FOP lodge southwest of Lawrence.
District Judge Peggy Kittel has granted the county’s motion for summary judgment on two main issues, but part of the case still must be resolved, attorneys for each side said.
The county has asked FOP leaders to seek a conditional-use permit for the firing range on the FOP property, 768 E. 661 Diagonal Road, home to a training ground for Lawrence police, the Douglas County Sheriff’s office and other area law enforcement agencies.
But the FOP filed suit in 2007 over the 95-acre tract of land because the firing range has existed there for decades. FOP’s attorney has argued the county has assured the FOP the firing range was proper for decades because sheriff’s officers train there.
The FOP also argued the club is zoned as a “country club,” meaning it didn’t need a conditional-use permit for the firing range.
In her recent ruling, though, Kittel said the FOP’s use of the property does not come under a country club classification, and she said even if it did, the FOP would still need to obtain a permit to use firearms there.
“Procedural requirements are considered by courts to be safeguards against the arbitrary exercise of power,” Kittel wrote. “That is why everyone must follow the procedures as laid out in the zoning regulations.”
She also said the county’s zoning ordinances require a permit for a shooting range.
“While the FOP’s purpose in developing the subject property for law enforcement training is laudable, the same standards under the law apply to the FOP as it would a private citizen or any other organization,” Kittel wrote. “Likewise, the county may not ignore its own zoning ordinances and is duty bound to apply its rules equitably.”
Mike Riling, an attorney for the FOP, said the FOP filed the lawsuit not seeking any monetary damages but only some clarity from a judge.
“We had a legitimate dispute. We couldn’t come to an agreement, and so we sought the court’s ruling on it,” he said.
Attorneys have a meeting scheduled with Kittel later this month to discuss issues she has not yet ruled on. Riling said the FOP could either seek discussions with the county to work out the dispute or ask Kittel to rule on remaining issues.
Evan Ice, the Douglas County counselor, said the county has never filed a court order preventing the FOP from operating the firing range while the case is pending.
The dispute developed four years ago when neighbors called the county and made a noise complaint about hearing gunshots at night near the lodge.
“The FOP and the county both would like to see this thing worked out in a way where everybody could have this be in everybody’s best interests,” Riling said. “We’re still hopeful that can happen.”