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Boulder County commissioners on Tuesday approved a portion of a proposed expansion of a private Boulder rifle club that was tabled last month, but left the door open for the club to request approval for other phases later.

Instead of granting permission for a special use review and subdivision exemption for the Boulder Rifle Club to move forward with all three phases of its proposed expansion, including five new gun ranges and an indoor shooting range, commissioners Elise Jones, Matt Jones and Deb Gardner ruled unanimously to approve phase one of the project at a Tuesday public meeting.

Commissioners said this still will leave a door open for the Boulder Rifle Club to potentially come back in the future and try to get approval for phase two and three of its proposal. Rifle club representatives said they would have to discuss this new development with its members before proceeding with phase one.

The club also must complete a Phase II Environmental Site Assessment before submitting building permits, except for those for a firing range barrier and the firing range shelters, county staff said, because a portion of the proposed expansion will be on top of a former dumping ground for a chemical company.

An additional noise study must also be completed by an independent consultant and it must confirm a 50% reduction from what was established in the prior noise study.

Initially Gardner motioned for the approval of the entire project, as recommended for conditional approval by the Community Planning and Permitting Staff. No one seconded the motion, so Elise Jones motioned to approve only phase one of the expansion. Elise Jones said she had “ongoing concerns about the intensity” of the proposed project’s use.

“I realize that my motion is a difficult one for the Boulder Rifle Club to hear,” Elise Jones said. “I do want to express appreciation for working with the county on this issue and the effort you have put in. I tried to craft my response in a way that allows you to move forward with phase one and that will breed, hopefully, good will with the neighbors and provide proof of concept.”

Phase one construction includes the building of a 25-meter, 50-meter and 100-meter range, as well as construction of access road improvements, a property entrance gate, a detention pond and water cisterns and improvements to the south range.

Supporters of the project have touted the proposal as an option to close dispersed shooting on federal lands, by providing a safe alternative and meeting criteria for the U.S. Forest Service to close some Boulder County lands to dispersed shooting.

Elise Jones said phase one “has the benefit of gaining forest service closures.” According to Garry Sanfacon, project coordinator for the Northern Front Range Recreational Sport Shooting Management Partnership, an effort to find alternatives to open shooting on federal land, criteria for the closure is the creation of a public range with at least 25 lanes and at least a 100-yard range opened. In a Nov. 18 letter to commissioners, included in online documents, the Boulder Rifle Club said its plan was to have each of the ranges include 12 lanes for shooting. While the club is private, the proposed expansion would be open to the public.

Matt Jones said he shared Elise Jones’ feelings on the proposal. He said he wanted to see the county take action to mitigate shooting on federal land and put a stop to the potential for sparking wildfires.

“We just saw the CalWood Fire,” Jones said. “Had that fire been just a few miles south it would have gone into Boulder. With climate change, I’m afraid it’s going to get much worse for us. Ignition sources from sports shooting is a big problem.”

The Boulder Rifle Club’s proposed expansion will take place on property the club owns at its location at 4810 N. 26th St. The proposed phase two included construction of the 200-yard range and 300-yard range. Phase three includes the creation of an indoor range building.

When asked by commissioners how the Boulder Rifle Club felt about only phase one being approved, Phil Duclos, a rifle club member and spokesperson who attended the meeting with club president Steve Martin, expressed disappointment.

“As I said before, phase one, compared with phase two and three, provides the smallest benefit to the rifle club members,” Duclos said. “It’s the BRC membership that will decide whether we approve this new development or not. Frankly, it’s going to be a lot harder to get them to agree. It’s a significant amount of money and work. We presented this as a well-rounded project, not to enable the county staff to pick it apart and OK subsequent phases.”

Martin added that he sees a huge benefit in the completion of phase three, which includes an indoor range. This, he said, would provide space for people to go to gun safety classes, as well as an option for safe shooting during bad weather.

The Community Planning and Permitting Staff had recommended, prior to Tuesday’s meeting, that the project be conditionally approved by commissioners. County officials listed more than 30 conditions that the rifle club was asked to agree to for approval.

These conditions included developing an Environmental Stewardship Plan, including the submission of semi-annual water and soil sampling and “specifics related to processes for reclamation and recycling of expelled ammunition and lead,” according to a document outlining the conditions.

The club’s proposal includes building on land Boulder County Public Health documents show was used from 1950 to 1965 as a dumping ground for Syntex Inc. plant, formerly known as Arapahoe Chemical Company.

In the 1980s, the Environmental Protection Agency conducted an investigation on the dump.

“The EPA assisted the county by conducting testing throughout the area to look for potential contamination that would impact human and environmental health,” said Erin Dodge, water quality program coordinator for Boulder County Public Health. “Based on the findings it was determined that there was not significant contamination exceeding contaminant levels as set by EPA regulations.”

Gardner said a benefit in the proposal was the chance to improve sound impact at the current ranges, as well as those proposed.

“If we can reduce that to 50% then that’s a significant change and would hopefully be a considered benefit to the neighbors, which would seem like a trade off for the increased activity at the proposed range,” Gardner said.

The club’s proposal has garnered lots of feedback from the public. During a public hearing in November, when 160 people signed up to speak, about half of those addressing commissioners were Boulder residents who feared increased noise pollution disturbing nearby neighborhoods, hikers on the Hidden Valley Trail and wildlife. They also cited concerns about proposing to build part of the project on the former dump.

People in Boulder County mountain communities, though, who also spoke during the November public hearing expressed support for the expansion. Many said the county needs to take action to curb sports shooting on federal land. A number of those who spoke described hearing or even nearly being struck by random gunfire in the mountains, noting the expansion could save lives and prevent forest fires.

Addressing commissioners’ questions during the meeting, Sanfacon said that five alternative sites were considered for a public shooting range, but all of them were deemed inappropriate, because the proposed sites were too close to a trail or creek site.

“We are continuing to look at possible sites, but I would say it’s very challenging to find suitable sites that have this flat topography,” Sanfacon said. “We have not had success in finding that.”

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