HomeGovernmentPublic hearing closed for firearms business bylaw proposal

Public hearing closed for firearms business bylaw proposal


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WESTFORD — The public hearing for a proposed bylaw amendment that would regulate future firearms businesses in Westford has closed. The proposal will soon head to Special Town Meeting in October for consideration by voters.

The Planning Board voted unanimously to close the hearing during a Sept. 18 joint meeting with the Select Board.

Changes to the draft proposal

A number of changes were made to the draft language, including increasing setbacks from schools from 500 feet to 1,000 feet, as well as limiting just two of the available four special permits for retail firearms sales.

This setback change would only impact the area near Nashoba Valley Technical High School.

“I think it makes people feel better to have 1,000 [feet] for the schools, I don’t really think it makes a difference, personally,” Planning Board member Joan Croteau said.

Under the current proposal, four total special permits could still be granted for future businesses. Only two of these permits could be used for retail sale of firearms and ammunition.

Businesses that are preexisting nonconforming uses, including Westford’s two sportsmen’s clubs which have existed before zoning, would not count toward the total of special permits for their existing firing ranges.

Changes to their businesses, such as adding another form of service, would require a special permit.

“Whether it the two existing clubs or preexisting nonconforming use, if someone went to the Zoning Board of Appeals and sought special permit relief to change or extend a preexisting nonconformity that resulted in a new firearm business or a new element of service where it did not exist, that would then count toward the applicable limitations,” Director of Land Use Management Jeffrey Morrissette said.

Officials told WestfordCAT that it is unclear how this change could affect a firearms business at 359 Littleton Rd., which received site plan review approval in March. Currently, the business would not count toward the total number of special permits allowed under the proposal.

Jeffrey Steinbrecher, owner of Legal Arms Co., has three years from approval to move forward on his application. According to Morrissette, there has been “no forward movement” on the application at the time of reporting.

Additionally, firearms businesses could share space with other firearms businesses. However, both businesses would need approval in each of their special permits.

What hasn’t changed 

The draft retains setbacks where children under 18 years old commonly congregate in “scheduled and structured activities.” Planning Board Chair Michael Bonenfant felt the restriction is “somewhat ambiguous,” and believes it could open the town up to future legal challenges.

“I think in town that [locations where children under 18 years old commonly congregate] it’s so fluid,” he said. “We may just be asking for trouble if we continue with that language.”

He added, “businesses change quickly. I think the thought is there.”

Officials estimate there are approximately seven locations in town that would fit the criteria of scheduled and structured activities where children commonly congregate.

Town Counsel Justin Perrotta of KP Law believes the language could withstand potential legal scrutiny.

“I think this language is drafted clearly enough that it would withstand any scrutiny on its face,” he said. “But certainly someone could say I disagree with your [Special Permit Granting Authority] determination that it is a place where children congregate.”

He added, “it doesn’t strike me as something that would be open to appeal all the time, it’s pretty rock solid in its language. But I can’t say [that] it couldn’t happen.”

The draft language is similar to a bylaw that was approved at a March 2014 Annual Town Meeting, which introduced regulations around a Medical Marijuana Overlay District.

The Planning Board retains the authority to increase the number of special permits if they felt that a service was not provided in town.

“This is the opportunity for the Planning Board to review that limit. The Planning Board still has to grant a special permit,” Perrotta said. “That doesn’t necessarily mean that the service would get added.”

He added, “the goal of that section is to prevent a situation where certain firearms use were effectively prevented from coming into town.”

Additionally, resident Kristi Bates expressed concern over a multifamily zoning overlay, which would occupy the same region along Littleton Road where future firearms businesses could operate. There is no setback requirement between firearms businesses and residential zoning under the proposal. 

“We might want to consider a buffer from residences,” she said. “I could envision a multifamily area with multiuse and the way it is written now, a firearm business could open in the bottom floor of a multi use structure.”

What’s next

Officials will now prepare a draft report and recommendation based on the current draft and comments made on Sept. 18. A draft report is expected to be presented to the Planning Board on Oct. 2.

The proposal will be presented to voters at Special Town Meeting on Oct. 16 at 7 p.m. at Westford Academy. The proposal is the final item on the agenda.

“Although this is the last item on the agenda, the rest of the meeting will probably go very quickly. If you want to be there for this item, you probably should plan on attending the whole meeting so you don’t miss it,” said Town Moderator Angela Harkness.

Catch up with previous coverage from WestfordCAT below. Items are in chronological order by date.

Planning Board slated to approve proposed gun shop

Select Board to consider proposed gun shop bylaw

Updated proposed gun shop bylaw returns for consideration

Select Board co-sponsors proposed gun shop bylaw

Public hearing opens for firearms business bylaw proposal

Petitions circulate on proposed firearms shop bylaw

Officials seek consensus after second public hearing for firearms business bylaw

UPDATED: After third public hearing, officials and residents remain divided over proposed bylaw

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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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