The city of Delafield twice illegally blocked operations at the Hartland Sportsmen’s Club after a stray bullet struck a pregnant woman dining at a restaurant a quarter-mile away in April 2010, according to a ruling by Waukesha County Circuit Court Judge Maria Lazar.
The club ceased operations in 2010 at its ranges, located at 730 Maple Ave., after a bullet fired by the guest of a member struck a woman dining at the Delafield Brewhaus. The woman was grazed by the bullet, but not seriously injured.
The city revoked the club’s conditional use permit and then denied a later application for a new permit.
The club sued, arguing the initial revocation was invalid because the city relied on a potential gap in the state’s Range Protection Act. The law is intended to protect shooting ranges from being shut down as communities become more developed. The Legislature had updated the law to include ranges built between 1998 and 2010.
The city argued the new law created a window of time where the protections weren’t in place, but Lazar found that was not the intent of lawmakers.
The ruling, issued Thursday, says the city’s revocation of the club’s conditional use permit in June 2010 was void because it violated state law. Lazar also ruled the city’s decision to deny a conditional use permit for the club in 2013 was arbitrary and not supported by the record.
Lazar ruled the club’s 1997 conditional use permit is still valid, but did not address whether the club could immediately resume activities at its firing ranges without implementing the safety precautions it proposed in an effort to reopen the range. She also declined to rule on whether the club’s Second Amendment rights were violated.
“The court, however, does encourage the promotion of safety precautions and other actions consistent with those of a good business neighbor and corporate citizen and notes that the Sportsmen’s Club’s pleadings themselves seek the ability to ‘implement its proposal and resume operation of its ranges,’” Lazar wrote.
Jeremy Levinson, an attorney at Halling & Cayo, S.C. who represented the club, said the club will work towards reopening its ranges in the near future.
"Obviously the members want to get back to it, but they want to do so in an orderly way," he said, adding that the emphasis will be on making the ranges safe, not on meeting the city's list of demands, which he said continued to evolve during the permitting process.
Ryan Braithwaite, an attorney at Crivello Carlson S.C. who represented the city, said a closed session is planned for Feb. 15 with the Delafield Common Council to determine the next steps.
"It's likely the city will pursue an appeal or motion to reconsider," Braithwaite said.
He added the city takes issue with a number of items in Lazar's decision, including consideration of the 2010 revocation. Braithwaite said a prior judge in the case had excluded that from the record and the club had a chance to contest it when the revocation first happened.
The club was founded in 1948. It was surrounded for the majority of its existence by vacant, rural land, but that land was developed into a subdivision in the 1970s.
After the 2010 incident, whether the ranges were an appropriate activity for the area was among the points of contention. Lazar noted in her ruling that the city had approved residential and commercial growth in the area and seemed to have ignored the fact the real estate around the club had increased in value significantly when compared to other properties in the city.