A public hearing on a plan to convert a portion of the former TrueTech building in Riverhead into a firearms training facility and shooting range was postponed at the request of the applicant before any members of the public got a chance to speak at Thursday’s Riverhead Planning Board meeting.
Charles Cuddy, the attorney for applicant Signature Partners, instead asked that the proposal go before the Zoning Board of Appeals to get an interpretation of what uses are permitted.
“There has developed a concern with the scope and nature of our application, and we would like the Zoning Board of Appeals to determine the nature of the use,” he said.
The dispute appears to be whether gun sales are permitted at the site, located at 680 Elton St.
Anthony Niosi, co-owner of Niosi Firearms, had said at an April 21 Planning Board meeting that he does intend to sell and rent guns to the public, as well as to military and law enforcement. The range will be open to the public on a per-day basis, he said.
There were a number of people who planned to speak, and who objected when Planning Board chair Joann Waski instead took the proposal off the agenda, since the hearing had not been opened yet.
But while the hearing was postponed, the speakers instead spoke at the end of the meeting, where comments could be made on any planning topic.
Eight people spoke on the proposal — all in opposition.
John Moran, who said he was representing 100 families in nearby Mill Pond Commons, said there should be a traffic impact study on Elton Street, where a recent rollover crash was reported with one car traveling over 70 mph.
John McAuliff of Roanoke Landing said “it’s hard to imagine a gun range in a zone for recreation.”
When Mr. McAuliff began talking about shootings that have taken place nationally, Ms. Waski said that had nothing to do with the application.
“I think it does,” Mr. McAuliff said.
Resident Cindy Clifford said that by searching “Riverhead gun sales” in Google, a picture of a gun shop comes up.
Mr. Niosi said in an interview that this picture is not of his store and is just a “generic” photo. He said there is nothing in the building currently.
Town planner Greg Bergman said police, fire marshal and code enforcement were in the building and found nothing.
“This is not the place for guns and shooting,” said Phil Barbato of Jamesport.
Mr. Niosi said the guns he sells to civilians are guns “that civilians are able to buy under the New York State Safe Act, which includes rifles and pistols, so long as the buyer has gotten a proper license and can pass the federal background check.”
He said it is very difficult to obtain a gun permit in Suffolk County.
The overall application calls for a 21,495-square-foot firearms training facility, a 21,555-square-foot Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioner supply warehouse and distribution operation, and an office use with a so far undefined tenant are proposed for a 73,100-square-foot vacant commercial building on Elton Avenue.
The portion of the application dealing with firearms is what has neighbors worried. By the time they got to speak, Mr. Cuddy had left.
Mr. Niosi did not addend the meeting.
Mr. Bergman explained what happened:
“When the application for 680 Elton Street came up, it was initially represented to the planning department and the planning board as an indoor shooting range,” he 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.”
He added, “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 this location, which was never disclosed in any project documentation, or on any environmental assessment forms, or any application forms. When the applicant was made aware out this this afternoon, he requested to adjourn the hearing.”
The applicant instead sought to adjourn the hearing in order to modify the application, Mr. Bergman said.
The Riverhead Town Board has recently proposed banning gun sales in downtown Riverhead.