The hearing on the site plan application for changes to a vacant commercial building on Elton Street was adjourned by the planning board last night at the request of the applicant.
Riverhead planner Greg Bergman said the planning department and planning board had not been initially aware that the applicant, Niosi Firearm Development, planned the retail sale of firearms at the 680 Elton Street site.
“It was initially represented to the planning department and the planning board as in indoor shooting range,” Bergman said. “An interpretation was made by the zoning officer that an indoor shooting range was interpreted to be an indoor recreation facility which is permitted in the CRC zoning use district,” Bergman said.
“Since the initial application was submitted and recent events have happened, it has come to our attention that the applicant was planning on retail sales of firearms at the location, which was never disclosed in any project documentation, it was not indicated on any environmental assessment forms or any application forms,” he said.
“When the applicant was made aware of this, this afternoon, they decided to amend their application. It would be inappropriate to hold a public hearing on something that has been adjourned and will be amended,” Bergman said.
Niosi Firearm Development principal Anthony Niosi stated during a discussion at the planning board’s April 21 meeting that his company would offer firearms sales and rentals at the site, in addition to offering live and virtual shooting range facilities.
In an interview, Bergman subsequently told RiverheadLOCAL retail firearms sales were considered by the planning department to be a “customarily incidental” accessory use to a shooting range.
Online advertising has represented Niosi Firearm to be open for retail sales at the site, which Bergman said last night does not mean that sales activity is actually taking place there.
“The pictures on Google were not taken on that location,” Bergman said. “There are no firearms being stored in that building right now. That was confirmed by the police department, code enforcement and the fire marshal yesterday,” Bergman said.
Residents turned out to the planning board meeting in force to speak against the plan at the public hearing with a number of people attempting to participate via Zoom as well. But the town had technical difficulties that blocked the meeting audio from being streamed to the Zoom webinar. Meanwhile the conversation and complaints among those gathered in the Zoom “waiting room” could be heard loud and clear in the Town Hall meeting room.
The situation delayed the start of the hearing, with the applicant’s attorney, Charles Cuddy, standing at the podium. The hearing was not opened and Cuddy never got a chance to address the board — presumably to request an adjournment, according to Bergman.
After the board handled the other matters on its agenda and the meeting was opened to public comment on any matter, residents expressed their objections to the application and their dismay at the way the town has handled it. They urged the planning board, which has already issued a determination of non significance under the State Environmental Quality Review Act, to undertake more detailed environmental and traffic studies.
John Moran, a member of the board of the Mill Pond Commons condominium community on Elton Street, objected to the proposal on behalf of the residents of Mill Pond Commons. Moran said environmental review is needed because of gases that are emitted from firing and vented out of the building. He also called for a traffic impact study on Elton Street. Board members and Bergman said both issues had been address in the applicant’s environmental assessment form.
“Try to understand these are our homes. I represent 100 homeowners there and over 250 people that reside there,” he said. Citing a recent traffic accident, Moran said, “It’s clearly unsafe as it is.”
Cindy Clifford, a founding member of the new Heart of Riverhead Civic Association, said the location “doesn’t align with the intent of the CRC (Commercial Residential Campus) district.
Clifford said indoor recreation was added to the CRC code in 2006 to allow uses such as a bowling center and indoor swimming pools, according to town board meeting minutes at the public hearing at the proposal. Indoor recreation was also added to the Shopping Center zoning district at that time, Clifford said.
John McAuliff of Riverhead asked that town officials look at this application in the larger context of current events.
“There are moment in history when …people make a decision about what they want their country to be like, and if our country at this point cannot make a decision that it is inappropriate to have a shop that is selling assault rifles, if it cannot decide that it is inappropriate to have a shooting range in a residential neighborhood a half a mile from Town Hall, it is inappropriate to have a place where people could be practicing or renting or buying a weapon that is a weapon of war, that is responsible over and over and over again for mass casualties,” McAuliff said.
“When does it happen? Who makes the decisions, who makes the choices about the kind of community were going to live in? I know its not within your normal writ but I think it is a responsibility that you have, that the town board has, and the Zoning Board of Appeals has,” he said.
“It is not an abstraction. It is something that is tearing apart our country. I think we ned to think about the implications of the decisions that are being made,” McAuliff urged.
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