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Proposed firearms training facility faces additional opposition at Planning Board hearing

While gun sales are no longer part of the plan for the former TrueTech building at 680 Elton St., the application still calls for firearms training at the site, an aspect of the proposal that also encountered opposition Thursday during a public hearing before the Riverhead Town Planning Board.  

The applicant, Signature Partners LLC., has put forward a site plan that calls for a 21,495-square-foot firearms training facility, a 21,555-square-foot HVAC supply warehouse and distribution operation, and a third space that has yet to find a tenant. The building is 73,100 square feet in total. 

A separate building at the west end of the property will be occupied by Sid Harvey’s, a national wholesale distributor for air-conditioning, refrigeration and heating equipment, according to Charles Cuddy, the attorney for the applicant. He said Sid Harvey’s has a location on Kroemer Avenue in Riverhead but is looking to expand.

At a Planning Board meeting in April, Anthony Niosi of Niosi Firearms Development LLC., told the board that he does plan to sell guns at the site and would also offer firearms training. In August, Mr. Cuddy told the town that no sales of firearms would take plan at the site, although firearms training would. 

Speakers were largely opposed to the plan.

Cindy Clifford of the Heart of Riverhead Civic Association said the Riverhead Town Board has yet to propose new regulations for firearms in the town. She also questioned what impact firearms training would have on nearby residences and on the wetlands on the property. 

Ms. Clifford urged the Planning Board to postpone a vote on the Elton Street proposal until  the Town Board passes new regulations on where firearms can and can’t be sold.

The Town Board in August said it was sending the issue of revising regulations regarding gun sales and gun ranges to the town’s code revision committee, with Councilman Tim Hubbard overseeing the effort.  

In an interview Monday, Mr. Hubbard said the proposal “didn’t have support on the board. So it’s not going to change at this time.”

Mr. Hubbard said one of the arguments against changing the regulations is that stores like Edwards Sports Center, which closed in 2018, sold guns in Riverhead for years with no incidents. 

In a separate interview, Councilman Bob Kern said, “Bad guys don’t buy guns at gun stores.” In fact, a survey released this year by the National Institute of Justice found in 77% of mass shootings from 1966-2019, at least some of the guns used were purchased legally. In a recent example, the massacre in Buffalo that left 10 people dead at a supermarket occurred after the 18-year-old suspect purchased a rifle at firearms store in Endicott, N.Y.

Mr. Kern added that there are a lot of hunters on the East End.

Councilman Frank Beyrodt said, “I would stay away from any kind of Second Amendment overreaching rights.”

At last Thursday’s hearing, former town councilwoman and Planning Board chair Barbara Blass said she supports the reuse of empty buildings rather than clearing undisturbed land.

She said there were two reported hazmat incidents at the Elton Street site in the past that she feels should be investigated before any approvals are given. 

Ms. Blass also urged the Planning Board to wait until the Town Board approves new regulations on firearms before voting on the application, something that doesn’t appear to have support. 

John Merenda of Calverton said, “Riverhead is a beautiful town,” citing the farms and open space as the charm of the town.

“Why in God’s name are you putting a commercial property adjacent to a residential area, when you have a massive industrial park? That’s where this belongs,” he said, alluding to the Enterprise Park at Calverton.

“Don’t ruin Riverhead Town,” Mr. Merenda said. “Because if you do, it’s forever.”

Eva Roberts, who lives behind the proposed site, said, “I’m opposed to having this so-called recreational activity here. To me it doesn’t belong in an area where it’s residential.”

“We have done extensive testing,” said applicant Andrew Weiss in response to some of the comments, adding that “no cause for remediation was found.”

Mr. Weiss said “we’re going to do everything we can to preserve as many of these large beautiful trees. We’re not looking to kill trees. We’re looking to enhance what exists there.”

As for concerns about lead coming from bullets being fired, he said, “There’s going to be powerful air conditioning equipment that will take all the lead out of the air when bullets actually hit a target.”