Firearms businesses don’t belong in downtown Riverhead’s central business district, the focus of the town’s revitalization efforts, town officials agreed Thursday. Shops that sell guns and related gear are not the kind of family-friendly establishments the town has been working to bring to Main Street, town board members said during a discussion at their work session.
“We don’t want to see gun signs up on Main Street right next to an ice cream shop and a playground,” Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said.
Town Attorney Erik Howard on Thursday outlined zoning code amendments he said he’s been working on with planning department staff and Community Development Director Dawn Thomas that would include definitions of firearms businesses and specify in which zoning districts they would be permitted and by what standards.
“We’ve put together some very preliminary draft legislation…And we wanted to bring it to the board and, you know, field any concerns you have on it, recommendations, answer questions that you have about it, and continue on with our drafting of the legislation from there,” Howard told board members. He did not circulate a copy of the draft to the board Thursday. “Once we get something a little more final, we’ll be ready to provide that,” he said.
Thomas said the DC-1 Zoning Use District, which takes in the Main Street corridor from just west of Griffing Avenue to just east of Ostrander Avenue, is, in particular, not the right place for those uses.
“We’ve been working on a lot of projects for downtown. We’re looking at a lot of public activation for downtown and really creating that family-friendly environment,” Thomas said. “We’ve discussed this with the marijuana legislation,” she noted.
“So this is just one of the things that we’re looking at that we think might not work on our Main Street and the immediate downtown area for a number of reasons,” Thomas told board members.
“Honestly, with all the work and money and time and effort that we’re trying to put in downtown to make it a great place — family-friendly,” Councilman Tim Hubbard said, “nothing against gun shops, but I don’t think they belong in that area. And I think there are better areas situated for them.”
The discussion comes on the heels of two mass shootings within the past two weeks in the United States — one a racially motivated attack at a Buffalo, New York, supermarket that resulted in the killing of 10 Black people, and another at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, where a gunman killed 19 students and two teachers.
Howard said in phone interview Friday afternoon that town officials have been talking about amendments for a while and they are not being considered in response to the shootings.
The discussion also comes as the Riverhead Planning Board considers a proposal for an indoor shooting range and firearms training facility that will also offer retail sales and rentals, according to the applicant.
A shooting range is a recreational use permitted as-of-right in the Commercial Residential Campus (CRC) Zoning Use District where the facility, proposed for a vacant building at 680 Elton Street, would be located, Planner Greg Bergman told the planning board at its April 21 meeting, when the site plan was presented. Bergman did not address whether the retail sales and rental use would be allowed by the CRC zoning code, which does not list retail uses among its permitted or accessory uses.
There is already one gun dealer on West Main Street, Baits & Barrels, which in 2020 gained approval to add a firearms “testing container” on its site, a trailer approved for testing guns sold or repaired by the shop. That shop is located in the Riverfront Corridor Zoning Use District, which takes in West Main Street west of Mill Road to an area west of L.I. Expressway Exit 72 in Calverton.
Howard said the legislation currently being drafted would require gun shops to obtain a special permit of the Town Board when in close proximity to certain uses such as residential uses, schools, churches and libraries. Those gun shops would also require a security plan, he said.
Officials said they hope the text of draft code amendments will be ready by the Town Board’s next meeting so the board can set a public hearing on the proposed changes.
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