Aguiar cancels a new Planning Board hearing on the plan for the Elton Street site where the armory and shooting range would open

After the Riverhead Planning Board made public its intention to postpone a public hearing on a site plan application for 680 Elton Street, where a gun dealer plans to open an armory and shooting range Inside, supervisor Yvette Aguiar intervened to stop the hearing from moving forward.

Aguiar said in an interview this afternoon that she had ordered the Planning Board not to hold a public hearing on the request yet and that Planning Board Chair Joann Waski had agreed.

“It’s not on the agenda,” Aguiar said.

Waski could not be reached for comment.

The Planning Board agenda posted on the city’s website lists a resolution calling for a public hearing on the site plan for 680 Elton Street, though the package of draft resolutions also posted on the website of the city does not include the resolution appearing on the agenda.

A June 2 hearing on the site plan was adjourned because planning staff said the city was not initially notified that a tenant planned to operate a retail gun shop there. The site is located within the Use District of the Commercial Residential Campus (CRC) zoning, which does not permit commercial uses except as “ordinarily incidental” to a use permitted by code.

Anthony Niosi, director of Niosi Firearms Development, tenant of the Elton Street site, confirmed today that its proposed uses have not changed.

Although Riverhead planner Greg Bergman said at the June 2 meeting that the city was unaware of the armory component of the plan, Niosi had in fact revealed to the planning board during a presentation in April that his company would offer gun sales on the site. Bergman said on June 2 that the candidate would have to submit a new application.

“It’s kind of funny,” Niosi said in a phone interview this afternoon, “because if you think about it, I wasn’t moving seven miles so I could add a store. I was moving a seven-mile store to be able to add a range. Niosi Firearms had a retail store in the Hampton business district near Gabreski Airport in Westhampton Beach. “So to say you didn’t know, there goes having arms sales there, I mean, you know, how can you miss that?”

Nonetheless, Niosi said, owner Signature Partners is pursuing the site plan application and a change of use for the building, which would also house an HVAC warehouse and offices.

There’s a separate, but related kind of battle going on at City Hall between the city council and residents over a proposed city code change introduced after the request for 680 St. Elton was discussed by the planning board. An early draft of the code amendment, intended to regulate gun businesses in the city, was written by City Attorney Erik Howard and Director of Community Development Dawn Thomas. This would have allowed gun businesses to operate only with a special permit from the city council and would have prohibited businesses within specified distances from certain uses.

It would also have made shooting ranges and gun dealers two separate uses permitted in different zoning use districts, and would have prohibited combining gun shops and shooting ranges on the same site. Under this draft code, gun stores would be prohibited in the CRC zoning use district, where the Niosi facility is proposed.

Public opinion on the code was split at the June 22 city council’s 1.5-hour public hearing. A majority of council members said after the hearing that the proposal would not proceed as presented.

[See prior coverage: Public opinion divided on proposed firearms code, which now heads back to the drawing board]

Many residents who expressed support for the proposal continued to address the council throughout the past month. At the July 19 city council meeting, Supervisor Yvette Aguiar said the code had no support from council members, and council members agreed the code went “too far” in restricting businesses from guns in the city. During the discussion, prompted by a resident’s question, Councilman Tim Hubbard said he would work more on the code and bring it to meetings of the city’s code review committee.

[See prior coverage: Firearm zoning amendment has no board support, says supervisor, as she condemns gun regulations]

During today’s city council meeting, residents again spoke out in favor of changes to the zoning code to address commercial uses of firearms. An open letter to the board, signed by the Heart of Riverhead Civic Association, Wading River Civic Association, Greater Jamesport Civic Association, Northville Beach Civic Association Board of Directors and other residents, urges the city enact a moratorium on the city’s gun businesses and establish a gun advisory committee of local residents to have a say in revising the code. The letter was read aloud to council at the meeting by Heart of Riverhead Civic member Peter Guardino.

Aguiar said in an interview after the meeting that she would be open to creating a resident advisory committee to help write the code. “Let’s look at the legal side and after that, you know, I can appoint an advisory committee on that. Yeah. So that’s definitely a path we could take,” she said.

Phil Barbato, president of the Riverhead Neighborhood Preservation Coalition, said members of the organization were also concerned about the review and thanked Hubbard for his continued work on the code, and Howard for writing the first draft.

“We need to decide on specific zoning requirements to protect our neighborhoods, hamlets and properties, while keeping Riverhead a family town for residents and visitors,” Barbato said.

“I think it’s important to note that this is not a Second Amendment issue,” Barbato said. “It’s a matter of community safety. It’s easy to have weapons, anyone can have them. With or without license. With or without ID. So we don’t need to make things easier, we need to make our neighborhood safe. And I’m glad you’re working in that direction.

Aguiar said after today’s meeting that the code review proposal will go to the code review committee “in its place”, and when it is reviewed, “there will be a public hearing”.

During the meeting, Aguiar also said she had asked Building and Planning Administrator Jefferson Murphree to look after the gun companies in updating the overall plan for the town.

Barbara Blass, a former board member and member of the planning board, said she was glad the code was being revised for the board’s consideration, but was concerned that the consideration of the firearms business code in the A comprehensive update to the plan could extend the process of regulating gun companies for more than a year. She noted that the city does not currently have a consultant for the update, as the council terminated the city’s contract with its former consultant, AKRF, last month after city officials became “out of control.” increasingly frustrated with the slow progress and the shallow depth of the study put forward”. by » the company.

Aguiar said after the meeting that “we don’t necessarily have to wait” for the plan and that the “most logical” step is to pass some code before the update is complete.

Amid the apparent confusion and controversy surrounding the site plan application, Niosi was charged by the Riverhead Code Enforcement Division with unlawfully operating and occupying the premises without a permit or approval.

Last month, Niosi pleaded guilty and paid a $1,500 fine.

The building at 680 Elton Street was also burglarized in early June as Niosi occupied the premises and stored weapons and other merchandise on the property, resulting in the theft of two handguns. (The weapons were later recovered by city police and three men were charged in connection with the incident.)

Niosi said today that his problems applying the code resulted from a misunderstanding between him and his owner. He said he did not understand that he could not occupy or transact business there until the site plan was approved. He thought he was only prohibited from selling guns there, which he said he did not do. He said he was simply occupying the premises to accept shipments of guns being shipped to his business, a licensed gun dealer, out-of-state gun stores or online businesses. . They are required by federal law to ship firearms only to a licensed firearms dealer, who is then responsible for ensuring the transaction complies with New York law, Niosi said.

“If I am allowed to be in business there, I will be in business there. But for now, I have nothing in it. Not a notepad,” Niosi said.

He said he pays to store his gun inventory offsite in a location approved by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. He also stores his fixtures and furniture in a separate off-site location for an additional fee.

“So it’s not like I’m treading water here. I actually back off,” Niosi said, adding that he didn’t want to sound like he was having a “pity party” for himself. “I had no idea when I signed this lease almost a year ago… that it would take a gauntlet to get the permissions I needed and it would take this long,” he said. -he declares.

Residents have also spoken out against the company after a RiverheadLOCAL investigation found Niosi authored a blog posting derogatory comments about Jews and black people, as well as praise for the hate group’s founder. Proud Boys.

[See prior coverage: Firearms dealer looking to open in Riverhead is author of blog disparaging Jews, Black people and praising founder of Proud Boys hate group]

In a June 23 letter to City Council, Niosi complained that RiverheadLOCAL’s coverage of him and his portrayal of his blog were unfair and an example of “cancellation culture” at a time when “there is no not uncommon to see media, big or small, using their right to advocate ad hominem the destruction of those with whom they disagree.

Niosi did not complain to RiverheadLOCAL about the article in question, nor did he submit a letter to the editor about it.

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Amanda J. Marsh