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Town Board to consider code change to restrict gun shops in downtown area

The Riverhead Town Board is considering a code change that would restrict businesses from selling firearms in downtown zoning districts.

Officials said there are no current applications before the Town Board for gun shops in the downtown area. The proposed change comes as downtown revitalization efforts ramp up with the Town Square project and transit-oriented development at Railroad Avenue, two public-private partnerships that could usher in $185 million of redevelopment.

“We’ve been working on a lot of projects for downtown,” said Dawn Thomas, Riverhead’s Community Development Agency administrator. “We’re looking at a lot of public activation for downtown and really creating that family-friendly environment.”

She said the town has already begun looking into restrictions on marijuana sales and paraphernalia in the downtown area and this firearms restriction would be similar in nature.

“This is just one of the things that we’re looking where we think [firearms sales] might not work on our Main Street and in the immediate downtown area,” Ms. Thomas said.

Town attorney Erik Howard said the draft legislation is still in a “very preliminary” stage. He said the proposed change came out of the Pattern Book, which was meant to serve as a guide for downtown development.

The goal, he added, would be to identify the zoning districts where the town would want — or not want — that type of business. 

“What we’re looking at is incorporating definitions which we don’t have in zoning code Chapter 301 right now,” Mr. Howard said. “We’re going to be implementing boundaries, distances from other areas, residential uses, schools, churches, libraries, etc.”

A special permit would be required that outlines a security plan, he said. 

Councilman Tim Hubbard said given the time and effort put into the downtown area to make it family-friendly, gun shops do not belong in the area.

He noted that the one gun shop operating in the area, Baits & Barrels, is located on West Main Street and away from the downtown area.

“That’s fine,” he said of the Baits & Barrels location. “But to open a gun shop downtown, I just don’t think that’s a good look for what we’re trying to promote downtown.”

The discussion at last Thursday’s work session came on the heels of two recent mass shootings in Buffalo, N.Y., and Uvalde, Texas, that left a total of 31 people dead, including 19 children from Robb Elementary School. Officials did not specifically mention the recent tragedies during the gun shop discussion.

Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said it would not be ideal to see signs for a gun shop next to an ice cream shop or playground in the downtown area.

The Planning Board is currently reviewing an application from a Westhampton-based business to transform a vacant building on Elton Street into a firearms training facility. That use is currently permitted under the property’s Commercial Residential Campus zoning.

Ms. Thomas said the proposed code change could be discussed at a future public hearing.