HomeGovernmentWhat's in the proposed firearms business bylaw amendment?

What’s in the proposed firearms business bylaw amendment?


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Editor’s note: Some of the included information was originally reported by WestfordCAT on April 11 and April 25. It has since been updated as of May 31 to reflect changes to the current proposal. 

WESTFORD — A proposed zoning bylaw that would regulate future firearms businesses in Westford has received the blessing of both the Select Board and the Planning Board. So — what happens next?

Select Board, Planning Board co-sponsor proposal 

WestfordCAT originally reported on April 26 that the Select Board voted unanimously to co-sponsor the proposed bylaw amendment during an April 25 meeting. The Planning Board later voted unanimously during a May 1 meeting to co-sponsor the proposal.

A public hearing notice for the proposed bylaw was published in the Lowell Sun on May 19 and May 26. When asked if WestfordCAT should publish the notice on our site, Director of Land Use Management Jeffery Morrissette did not request that WestfordCAT publish the notice on our site.

“We are trying to treat all public hearing notifications in a consistent manner – so I am not requesting that you publish the hearing notice on your site on those dates,” Morrissette wrote in an email to WestfordCAT.

What’s in the proposal? 

The proposed bylaw would not impact businesses that have already received approval, such as a firearms dealership at 359 Littleton Rd.

The proposal could limit the number of firearms businesses within Westford at one given time. The current draft bylaw would allow four special permits for firearms businesses within the town.

During the May 1 meeting, Morrissette noted that there was “no forward progress” regarding a proposed shop that received approval during a March 6 meeting.

Officials noted that if the 359 Littleton Rd. shop does not open, they would be open to increasing the number of special permits from four to five under the bylaw.

“So the four versus five, am I hearing four is maybe OK for now and if we find evidence that maybe the 359 isn’t going forward then you might change that during the public hearing process back to five, is that what I’m hearing,” Morrissette asked.

“That would be my opinion on it,” Planning Board Chair Dylan O’Connor responded.

WestfordCAT reached out to Morrissette who did not immediately respond via email for further clarification regarding the status of the shop.

The draft bylaw would not apply to sportsmen’s clubs, such as the Westford Sportsmen’s Club or Stony Brook Fish and Game Association.

New firearms businesses would be allowed under a special permit in the Commercial Highway and Industrial Highway districts under the proposal.

Parcels within Industrial Highway and Commercial Highway that are not within 500 feet of schools, religious uses, child care facilities or children’s activities. (Photo/Town of Westford)

Proposal contains a number of setbacks, restrictions 

The draft bylaw could limit new businesses within 500 feet of schools, child care centers, religious institutions or existing firearms businesses.

Under the most recent proposal, the Planning Board would be the Special Permit Granting Authority for future firearms businesses.

Additionally, the Planning Board could impose a number of criteria for a proposed firearms business that fall within 500 feet of a facility that “serves persons under age 18 who commonly congregate to participate in scheduled and structured activities.” These criteria include:

  • Whether children congregate at a specific place according to a schedule.
  • How frequently children congregate at the specific location in such scheduled and structured activities.
  • Whether the purpose of congregating is for an activity designed for or targeted toward children.
  • Whether the children congregate in groups of 10 or more.
  • Information contained within the purpose sections of Business Certificates and/or Articles of Organization filed with the Corporations Division of the Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

These criteria do not apply to one-on-one instructional services or facilities where children “may happen to congregate but not in a structured, scheduled manner,” according to the bylaw.

Under the proposal, businesses would need to submit a security plan as well as an operations and management plan to the Westford Police Department.

Businesses would be unable to operate before 9 a.m. and must close by 7 p.m. under the proposal.

Waiving some requirements

The Planning Board may, under a supermajority vote, waive setback requirements to issue a special permit provided that:

  • The application is for a new applicant (change of applicant) for an existing business.
  • The application is for adding another element of service to an existing business.
  • The application is for a new firearms business proposed in a location on the same lot as an existing firearms business provided there is sufficient separation between the units or buildings.
  • The applicant demonstrates that one or more of the firearms business types would otherwise be effectively prohibited in the town.
  • The project can be condition to reasonably satisfy the purpose and intent of the setback requirements.

The bylaw also outlines a number of needs within the town for a firearms business, including but not limited to:

  • Purchase and sale of firearms.
  • Purchase and sale of firearms accessories.
  • Purchase and sale of ammunition.
  • Gunsmithing.
  • Firing range.

If the maximum number of special permits are granted and one of the above needs is not met, the Planning Board may issue an additional special permit.

“In the event that the limit of four special permits is reached, the SPGA may waive this limitation upon a finding by supermajority vote that the proposed Firearm Business would provide service as a Firearm Dealer, Firing Range, or Gunsmith where such service is not yet being provided by any of the then-existing Firearms Businesses in Town,” the bylaw reads.

When is the public hearing?

The public hearing is scheduled to open on June 5 at 7 p.m. in Meeting Room 201 at Town Hall. The amendment will be considered at a Special Town Meeting no later than Oct. 16.

Residents who are unable to attend in-person may submit written comments via email to planningboardstaff@westfordma.gov.

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Ben Domaingue
Ben Domainguehttps://www.clippings.me/bendomaingue
Ben Domaingue has previously worked at newspapers in New Hampshire and is the Managing Editor covering Westford. He’s passionate about community journalism, photography and hiking. Email him at bdomaingue@westfordcat.org.

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