The owner of a vacant commercial building on Elton Street where an indoor shooting range and gun shop were proposed has amended its site plan application to remove the retail sale of guns and gunsmith services at the site.
Signature Partners, owner of at 680 Elton Street, filed a revised site plan application with the Riverhead planning department on July 25.
Berlin/Niosi Firearm Academy, one of three proposed tenants in the the sprawling 73,100-square-foot building, will “have classrooms, virtual reality training and practice, [simunition] (paint ball like) training and practice, and live fire [arms] training and practice,” according to documents filed by the landlord’s attorney, Charles Cuddy.
The amended application states there will also be equipment rentals and sales of ammunition associated with the use of the facility. But “there will be no gunsmith services offered and no sales of firearms or transfer of firearms whatsoever.”
The two other tenants are an HVAC warehouse and an office use, according to the application.
Cuddy last night asked the Planning Board to schedule the matter for discussion and set a public hearing on the revised application.
“It’s a procedural mater,” Cuddy said. “We’re simply asking you to hold the hearing so we can make our case” for the site plan. “There’s no concern about the use because the use is a permitted use,” Cuddy said.
“It’s a use that has been accepted,” he said, referring to the determination by Building and Planning Administrator Jefferson Murphree, the town’s zoning officer, that an indoor shooting range is an indoor sports and recreation facility permitted as of right in the Commercial/Residential Campus (CRC) zoning use district.
The published agenda for last night’s Planning Board meeting initially included for discussion a resolution scheduling a public hearing on the site plan application.
When Supervisor Yvette Aguiar on Tuesday learned that the Planning Board’s Aug. 4 agenda included scheduling a public hearing on the Elton Street site plan, she called Planning Board Chairperson Joann Waski and asked her to remove it from the agenda, Aguiar said in a phone interview Tuesday evening.
Aguiar told RiverheadLOCAL the proposed code revision will be taken up by the code revision committee “where it belongs,” and when it’s revised, “there will be a public hearing.”
Waski did not respond to a request for comment. But the discussion item concerning 680 Elton Street was removed from the Planning Board’s final Aug. 4 agenda.
“I think that was an error,” Cuddy told the Planning Board last night. “The reason it was removed was because there was a concern by the supervisor that the there was a retail use at the site by Niosi Firearms. That is not true.”
Retail uses are allowed in the Commercial/Residential Campus (CRC) zoning use district only as “customarily incidental” to as-of=right or specially permitted uses.
Cuddy provided board members with copies of the revised application he filed on July 25, which “makes it very clear that there will be no guns whatsoever sold at this site,” he said.
“It’s very hard when someone is trying to fix up a building and gets tenants and then gets put off,” Cuddy responded. “I’m not sure that’s good for the community either.”
Waski said she wanted to speak to the Planning Board’s legal counsel Eileen Powers before going forward with setting a new hearing date, but Powers was not available.
Cuddy said he’d been told the Planning Board attorney was unavailable for the entire month and asked Waski to speak with the town attorney, who he said was present for a meeting Cuddy said he had with the town supervisor yesterday afternoon.
Aguiar “does not have, by the way, any objection to the board proceeding and indicated that to me and spoke to Mr. Murphree too,” Cuddy told the Planning Board.
Aguiar on Tuesday evening was unaware of the revised application when she spoke to RiverheadLOCAL about the Planning Board’s Aug. 4 agenda.
The planning department earlier on Tuesday did not respond to requests for information about the site plan being put back on the Planning Board’s agenda for Thursday’s meeting.
On Wednesday morning, planner Greg Bergman provided RiverheadLOCAL with a copy of the revised site plan application Cuddy filed on July 25.
Anthony Niosi, principal in Niosi Firearms, said in a phone interview Wednesday he had not spoken to the landlord and was not aware of the site plan had been revised to exclude retail firearm sales. He said he will abide by all regulations. If retail gun sales are not allowed at the Elton Street site, he said, he will look to rent a space zoned for retail use somewhere nearby, but will operate the indoor shooting range and training academy at 680 Elton Street.
Confusion about proposed gun sales at the Elton Street site has permeated the application process.
At the April Planning Board meeting where the application was first publicly discussed, Waski asked Niosi directly if he would be selling firearms there and he answered that he would be. His company has the required federal license to sell almost any kind of firearm, he said. He described his license and his business in detail.
A site plan hearing was then scheduled for June 2. By that time, community opposition was growing over the proposed use and, with a crowd at Town Hall to voice their concerns, the Planning Board adjourned the hearing just before it was to get underway.
Bergman said afterward the hearing was adjourned because the planning department was unaware there would be retail gun sales at the site.
At that point, Niosi Firearms had already obtained the required approvals from the federal Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms bureau to move its federal firearm dealer license to 680 Elton Street and vacated its former location in a Westhampton Beach industrial park.
The company had also advertised the move on its website, which even stated it was open at the new location. (Niosi told RiverheadLOCAL that was an error. All content has since been removed from the website other than the company’s name and logo and “COMING SOON.”)
Also at that point, Town code enforcement officials had already visited the Elton Street building on May 28 and June 1 and found people inside who identified themselves as working for Niosi. On June 1, the town issued a stop-work order requiring Niosi to vacate the premises. Code enforcement also issued four tickets accusing Niosi of occupying the premises without town approvals, including a certificate of occupancy.
On June 6, Riverhead Police received a report of a burglary at Niosi Firearms in which two handguns, firearm ammunition, apparel, bags and gun accessories were stolen from the building. Police on June 7 arrested three Riverhead men in connection with the burglary.
Niosi told RiverheadLOCAL a week before the burglary he was using the site to store fixtures moved from his prior location and was also receiving orders for people who purchase firearms online, which federal law requires be shipped to a licensed firearm dealer in the state where the purchaser resides. He said he was not engaging in any sales at the site.
On July 12, after Riverhead code enforcement officers conducted a compliance inspection and determined that Niosi had vacated the building, Niosi pleaded guilty to two of the charges and paid a $1,500 fine in Riverhead Justice Court on July 12.
While the Elton Street site plan application was pending, the Town Board took up consideration of proposed legislation to regulate the location and operation of firearm businesses in Riverhead. It held a hearing on the measure June 21, drawing a crowd to Town Hall, after which Town Board members decided the code needed more work, as no board member supported it as drafted.
Aguiar said in an interview Tuesday the draft was with the town board’s code revision committee “where it belongs” and after it is revised and discussed by the board, a new public hearing will be held.
The draft code started out as an effort to ban retail gun shops along a portion of Main Street, which the full Town Board seemed to support. But the code that was set for a public hearing went much further, spelling out where retail gun shops would be allowed or not allowed throughout the town, as well as minimum distances from certain types of uses, hours of operation and the like. It also would have banned retail gun sales on the same premises where shooting ranges are located.
After the hearing, which drew a mix of comments both supporting and opposing the measure, some board members said they thought the proposed code “went too far” and needed more work.
The supervisor later said the bill lacked board support and would be discussed again if one of the council members brought it up. When asked about the status of the proposed code at the July 6 Town Board meeting, Aguiar was noncommittal. “You can have a public hearing to hear from the public, but that doesn’t mean you have to act on it,” she said.
With the status of the proposed code unclear, a group of civic organizations and residents on July 31 sent an open letter to the Town Board urging it to move forward with regulating firearm businesses. The group suggested the board establish a firearms advisory committee to assist the town in developing regulations and, in the interim, implement a moratorium until the code revision is completed.
At last night’s Planning Board meeting, board chairperson Waski told Cuddy, “Our intent at this time is to get this on the agenda as soon as possible.”
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