Originally from The Worcester Telegram- www.telegram.com

Gun range permits approved by Worcester zoning board

WORCESTER – The Zoning Board of Appeals has opened the door for the operation of a retail gun store and indoor shooting range at a former warehouse on Prescott Street.

By a unanimous vote, the board Monday night granted two special permits to Justin Gabriel, the owner of The Gun Parlor Inc., so he can relocate his gun store from 210 Summer St. to a 10,000-square-foot building at 170 Prescott St., and also convert the building into a 10-lane indoor shooting range.

Mr. Gabriel needs to find a new location for his business because the lease for the building he has been in for the past three years is not being renewed, according to his lawyer, Donald O’Neil.

That building is slated for demolition as part of a plan to build a new hotel in the Washington Square area.

Mr. O’Neil said Mr. Gabriel has purchased the building at 170 Prescott St. – the former Greg’s Packing Co. warehouse – and intends to invest about $1.5 million in creating a state-of-the-art, cutting-edge gun store and indoor shooting range. His current location does not include a shooting range.

At the new location, Mr. Gabriel will also be allowed to sell motorcycles – something he has been doing at his current site.

As part of his approval, the zoning board included a condition that if the owner should ever have his license to operate revoked, the special permits would be revoked as well.

Mr. O’Neil pointed out that the city’s zoning ordinance allows retail gun stores and shooting ranges by special permit only in those areas that are zoned manufacturing-general, which is the zoning for the Prescott Street site.

He argued that the site is an idea location for such an operation because it is abutted by Interstate 290 and railroad tracks to the rear, Rural Cemetery across the street and other businesses to its immediate north and south.

“This is as isolated a spot as you will find,” Mr. O’Neil said, adding that the closest homes are 360 feet north of the property line and 450 feet from the building itself. “The proximity to residences is more imaginary than real. We don’t perceive any adverse effect on abutters or the neighborhoods.”

Mr. O’Neil added that use of the gun range will be restricted to members only and they must have a valid firearms identification card.

The hours of operation will be 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. for members, while law enforcement groups will be able to use it from 8 to 11 p.m.

The Prescott Street siting drew opposition from the City Council, Worcester Polytechnic Institute and Police Chief Gary J. Gemme.

Representing Chief Gemme at the zoning board hearing, Deputy Chief Sean J. Fleming said the chief opposed the siting of the indoor shooting range because of past problems the Police Department had with the owner of another gun range (Boston Gun Range) some eight years ago.

Deputy Chief Fleming said Chief Gemme also does not believe such a business would be in the best interests of the neighborhood, the city of Worcester or the community at large.

“Because of issues with the previous gun range, the chief stands in opposition to this,” he said.

But Mr. O’Neil objected to that testimony, saying the problems and violations associated with another gun range owner several years ago has nothing to do with his client.

Most of the people who testified on the matter spoke in favor of granting the special permits, including Councilor-at-Large Michael T. Gaffney and former city councilors Wayne A. Griffin, Juan A. Gomez and Joffrey Smith.

They argued that Worcester needs a shooting range where legal gun owners can have a place to practice. They also pointed out that police have not cited Mr. Gabriel for any violations at his current business location.

“The city should not be in the business of choosing which businesses can set up in Worcester,” Mr. Gaffney said.

Two people spoke against the special permits, including Claudia Russo of 14 Metcalf St., who owns a business on Prescott Street and who initiated a petition before the City Council in opposition to the move.

Ms. Russo said her opposition is not about guns, but rather the type of business that she feels goes against the character of a family neighborhood.

“To me, the neighborhood does not need something like this,” she said.

Contact Nick Kotsopoulos at nicholas.kotsopoulos@telegram.com. Follow him on Twitter @NCKotsopoulos

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