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Military-style camp hits snag

A Spokane startup company that wants to build a military-style training camp failed Tuesday to win special zoning help from county commissioners.

Condition 1 LLC’s plea for rushed zoning approval got something closer to the bum’s rush from Commissioner Bonnie Mager.

“It needs to go through the regular process,” Mager said. “There are enough questions that it needs to be properly vetted.”

For example, Mager said, “What’s to stop them from training al-Qaida?”

Condition 1 – which takes its name from jargon for a cocked handgun – hopes to sell advanced training to Air Force, police and private security forces and basic training to others.

Plans call for a variety of firing ranges, including some for machine guns and long-range rifles, and a “tactical driving track.” There also would be training in “close-quarter battle” and “breaching techniques” for bombs.

Mager noted the firm has been selling memberships to individuals who don’t have criminal records. But criminal background checks would have done nothing to prevent al-Qaida conspirators from receiving the flight training that enabled them to fly airliners into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Mager said.

“That’s a worst-case scenario,” Commissioner Mark Richard said, adding that Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich “wants something like this” for training his deputies.

Mager said Knezovich, who wasn’t present to speak for himself, told her he hadn’t been aware that Condition 1 planned to open its “tactical training facility” to the public.

“Clearly, he wouldn’t support training people how to fight his deputies,” Richard agreed.

Mager said she found it “a little bit disturbing” that Condition 1 officials – also not present Tuesday – contacted Richard and Commissioner Todd Mielke before addressing her even though their proposed facility in southwestern Spokane County would be in her district.

Richard said he encouraged the entrepreneurs to contact Mager. Mielke said he was contacted last fall, before Mager took office and at a time when Condition 1 was talking about establishing its facility in Lincoln County.

More recently, the company abandoned a plan to buy 700 acres in Whitman County, according to Sean Reagan, Condition 1’s vice president of marketing and development.

Reagan said in a June 15 e-mail to Richard, Mielke and Knezovich that Condition 1 chose instead to enter a $5,000 earnest money agreement on a Spokane County property that will add $600,000 to the company’s costs. In another e-mail Reagan described the property as 950 acres in the Johnson Lake area.

Reagan didn’t elaborate on the property’s location or the company’s reason for choosing it over the less-expensive Whitman County property. He described the property as scab land that is used mostly to graze cattle and grow alfalfa.

Johnson Lake is about three miles west of the intersection of Cheney-Plaza and Wells roads, south of the Turnbull National Wildlife Refuge.

Condition 1’s Web site shows three young men and claims to have “56 years of combined military experience, of which 10 were under hostile fire conditions, most recently in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom.”

The Web site says the training center will be in operation in September, but county officials offered no hope Tuesday that the facility can open at all – much less in September.

Brothers Richard and Michael Shults are the company’s co-owners, and they are desperately short of money for their venture, according to Reagan. He told commissioners the company has spent $50,000 to $60,000, and he has been working without pay since December.

The company must break ground within 90 days or fold, Reagan said repeatedly in his message to commissioners.

“We cannot continue in a hopeless endeavor to the point of ruination,” he wrote.

But, Reagan contended, the facility would offer “absolutely essential training assets” and “must be brought to fruition for the good of the community.”

The best commissioners could offer was a suggestion to apply for a conditional use permit for a simple firing range, such as those used by gun clubs for target practice.

John Pederson, assistant director of building and planning, said an unembellished gun range might be approved with a conditional use permit. However, Pederson said it usually takes 60 to 90 days to obtain a permit, and the county hearing examiner is booked up through mid-August.

Reagan got no traction with suggestions to approve Condition 1’s plans as a “master plan resort” or for commissioners to pass an emergency “interim zoning ordinance” and follow up with necessary comprehensive plan and zoning changes later.

Pederson said he envisions a “master plan resort” as a major recreational development, not “training facilities where you go to practice blowing up things and shooting things.”