CARLSBAD — City Council voted 4-1 Tuesday night to uphold a past decision by the Planning Commission denying a gun range at the Gunther Guns retail store off Palomar Airport Road.
Lisa Gunther, owner of Gunther Guns, appealed the Planning Commission’s Feb. 18 decision, which was a tie vote, so by default, upheld City Planner Don Neu’s decision to deny a conditional permit allowing a gun range.
The Planning Commission had to decide whether or not Neu had made an error or abuse in discretion when denying the permit.
Mayor Matt Hall told the packed city chambers that he is a supporter of the second amendment, a right to bear arms, but did not believe Neu had abused his authority or made an error in judgment when denying the range.
“Did he interpret the ordinance maybe how I would have interpreted it? Perhaps not, but he made an interpretation based on how he read the code, how he read the ordinances and I’m OK with that,” said Hall.
The 17-lane shooting range was proposed for the Gunther Guns retail gun store, off Loker Avenue West, which is in a Planned Industrial zone.
At the Planning Commission meeting, Neu said the industrial zone has very specific guidelines for what can be operated in the area, and a gun range is not listed.
He said the range did not meet the purpose of intent for the Planned Industrial zone.
There is some flexibility in the ordinance for “select uses,” like athletic clubs, gyms, churches, daycare centers and recreational facilities.
Neu pointed out that recreational facilities are not defined, which is why there is a problem.
“There are some issues with interpreting the ordinance to classify the use as a recreation facility for zoning purposes which would establish a precedent that affects numerous land-use zones,” Neu told the council.
Councilmember Michael Schumacher said that if the gun range was considered recreational, it would be allowed in open space zones, which isn’t the intent.
Neu decided that the range is not similar to an ice-skating rink, go-kart track or swim facility, which are all recreational facilities that have been approved in the light industrial zone.
All of the councilmembers agreed that the city’s Master Plan should be updated to include guidelines for a shooting range.
“I do feel that, like any other use, there should be some place in our codes or our ordinances where we allow a gun range and I’m not going to try to bring us there tonight but I would like it to be seen as a clear use in whatever zone that we feel most appropriate,” said Hall.
Mayor Pro Tem Keith Blackburn was the only councilmember to vote against the Planning Commission’s denial of the shooting range.
He said he didn’t want to call Neu’s decision an error in discretion, instead he said he wanted to call it a disagreement.
“That makes it a little bit easier for me to say,” said Blackburn. “In this particular case, I view this as kinda simple, that in my opinion, this is a recreational activity.”
Nearly 30 people spoke at the meeting, with the majority in support of the gun range.
Lisa Gunther spoke about the safety of shooting ranges and argued there are more in California than ice skating rinks, which does not make her request unique.
She has been trying for nearly two years to get a shooting range and was frustrated that a San Marcos store will open sooner.
“A San Marcos store will have a range open this summer. The whole process from start to finish will only be one year. Please do not punish me anymore for having a small business in Carlsbad,” Gunther told the council.
Gunther’s attorney, Leslie Devaney, said if the council doesn’t provide evidence as to why the gun range isn’t recreational, they leave themselves open to legal recourse.
Some Carlsbad residents spoke against the gun range because of safety issues.
Bressi Ranch resident Elizabeth Cooke said she wasn’t picturing a gun store down the road when she moved in and that she spoke with many mothers in the area who were against the range.
The council directed staff to look into possible locations for a gun range.