WESTFORD — Voters will be asked to consider whether to approve a zoning bylaw amendment that would place new regulations on future firearms businesses at Monday’s Special Town Meeting.
The proposed bylaw has been unanimously endorsed by the Select Board on Sept. 26 and subsequently endorsed by the Planning Board. Planning Board Chair Michael Bonenfant cast the dissenting vote on Oct. 2.
“Personally I feel that the child care part of it [the bylaw proposal] is a little ambiguous,” Bonenfant told WestfordCAT. “My personal opinion is [also] more market-driven.”
Firearms businesses are currently allowed under existing use categories such as retail, light manufacturing and commercial recreation. These businesses are allowed as-of-right in seven zoning districts, including residential, highway and industrial districts.
The proposed bylaw would create new buffer requirements for firearms businesses. Businesses under the bylaw would be subject to setbacks of 1,000 feet from schools and 500 feet from child care centers, religious uses, places where children commonly congregate in organized activities and other firearms businesses.
The proposal would place a limit on four firearms businesses in town, with only two businesses permitted for retail sales of firearms and ammunition. However, the Planning Board could waive this limit by a supermajority vote if it felt a need was not served by existing businesses.
The bylaw would also allow firearms businesses to operate between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. and require businesses to submit a comprehensive safety plan to the Westford Police Department among other requirements.
Pro 2A Founding Member Al Prescott expressed “disappointment” in what he feels has been an “extremely divisive and partisan process.”
“I expect better from all of our elected officials,” he told WestfordCAT. “It’s clear that the Select Board has an extreme amount of contempt for law-abiding firearms owners and the two sportsmen’s clubs that have been pillars in our community.”
He expressed willingness to support a 500 foot setback from firearms businesses and a safety plan.
“All of my people would’ve gone with that,” he said.
Prescott has also expressed concerns over retail vacancies in Westford, which he believes could be harder to fill with the new regulations.
“Bylaws like this, by restricting lawful businesses in town is the single biggest budgetary threat to the schools, police, and fire,” he said. “We’re doing everything we can to make it impossible for a fully lawful business to open in town.”
Supporters of the bylaw, however, believe the current draft is a “good compromise.”
“For what went on in town, the bylaw is the best we can do now and I want it to pass,” Marilyn Katler, resident and member of Safe Sensible Zoning Westford told WestfordCAT.
She emphasized that even if the bylaw passes, residents could still purchase firearms in Westford if a business chooses to open in town.
“They can buy more guns in Westford or somewhere else depending on if a business does come into Westford. It’s not limiting people from buying guns,” she said.
One concern, she says, is a clause that allows the Planning Board to waive the limit on the number special permits by a supermajority vote.
“It’s a trust issue with the Planning Board. So, in some ways I feel it’s an open book with whatever they think is right at that time,” she said.
WestfordCAT also reached out to Chief of Police Mark Chambers via email for comment regarding the current draft bylaw who did not respond at the time of reporting. Chambers has previously supported some form of a setback requirement to make the “possibility of sharing inventory a little more difficult.”
“I felt it would be very beneficial to have a bylaw that restricts having several dealers within the same building,” Chambers said during a March 20 Planning Board meeting.
Special Town Meeting will be held on Oct. 16 at 7 p.m. in the Westford Academy gymnasium.