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Land sale splits gun club membership; school district could seek condemnation

August 10, 2018

A disagreement among Spokane Gun Club members over whether to sell land to the Central Valley School District for a new school site could put the sale agreement and the gun club’s future in jeopardy.

The Central Valley School District – which agreed to purchase 99 acres from the Spokane Gun Club in July for close to $8 million in order to construct a new high school and a future elementary school – may seek condemnation for a section of land if gun club members can’t arrive at a final agreement to approve the sale.

“A 126-year-old club – the oldest club west of the Mississippi – is going to close if we don’t take the offer,” said club president Robert Thornton. “There won’t be enough money left to move the club and it will fail. If we take the offer, we will have money for a new, bigger club than we have now.”

In July, a majority of gun club members voted in favor of the sale, which would allow the club to lease back a portion of property for $10 a month until 2021. Under the sale agreement, the school district would also cover closing costs and property taxes. The gun club agreed to pay up to $1 million for environmental cleanup of the site located north of Henry Road and Sprague Avenue. For costs exceeding $1 million, the bill falls to the school district.

The club intends to invest sale proceeds to develop indoor and outdoor shooting ranges, as well as improved club facilities that could be rented out to law enforcement for training.

However, members opposed to the sale brought forth concerns with environmental cleanup costs and obtaining permits associated with a new gun club site. They also claimed the initial vote in favor of the sale wasn’t done in line with the club’s bylaws.

William Lenz of Witherspoon Kelley, attorney for the club, emailed a document to members outlining the sale agreement.

A second meeting was held on Aug. 3, in which 53 of 92 members voted in favor of the sale. At that meeting, however, it was brought up that state law requires a two-thirds majority vote to sell the property.

Lenz emailed a second letter on Tuesday to opposing members who expressed concerns with the sale. The email stated that the school district’s attorneys hope to address concerns from opposing members by discussing environmental cleanup costs, reviewing if the appraised value of the land is fair through a third-party appraiser and taking additional steps to secure a new site.

The email also indicated that if a resolution to negotiations among members isn’t reached by today, the district will give notice of intent to seek condemnation for 40 acres of land intended for the new high school.

“There is no question now that the district will proceed with condemnation if club members do not find a way to work out their differences and find a path forward for the approval of the sale,” the email said.

If condemnation occurs, the club would lose all financial incentives in the sale agreement.

Gun club member Eric Olson is opposed to the sale for a few reasons, but his main concern is difficulty with obtaining permits for a new site.

Gun clubs in Moses Lake, Cheney and Rockford all have closed because they couldn’t get approved for conditional-use permits, he said.

“We can’t be homeless. Once we sell the property, we don’t have any leverage anywhere,” he said. “A lot of people are saying if (the school district) wants the property, they should hire a developer and build another club, so we can move to a new location without a lapse in time.”

Thornton said the school district will not pay for a new gun club.

“The school district is not authorized to build a gun club,” he said. “The school can’t do that legally. The only idea we have left is to try one more time to sell the club.”

The school district declined to comment on potential condemnation proceedings.

“We are currently working through active negotiations while following our board policies and procedures for property acquisition,” Ben Small, school district superintendent, said in a statement.

Voters overwhelmingly approved a $130 million bond measure earlier this year to fund construction of a third comprehensive high school.

The school district – which is already holding open house meetings to share plans for the new high school with the public – cited the gun club site is the best use of taxpayer dollars because of reduced construction costs, increased accessibility and an improved construction timeline that allows the school to open by 2021.

“Nobody wants it to go to litigation by any means, but we have to come up with a plan that everyone can agree to,” Olson said.

The members will hold a third meeting later this month for a final vote on the land sale.

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