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Zoning request targeting gun stores tabled by Morgantown Planning Commission

MORGANTOWN — An effort to regulate through zoning code where guns can be sold in the city of Morgantown got its first public airing on Thursday, albeit briefly.

The Morgantown Planning Commission voted unanimously to table a request brought on behalf of Protect Morgantown, the community group that formed in opposition to the inclusion of a Big Daddy Guns store in The Deck, the new development at 1050 University Avenue.

The group is pushing forward with the effort knowing it won’t stop its initial intended target, which already has a lease in hand from developer Hardy World.

The request brought by Protect Morgantown would create a new definition “firearms sales establishment,” which would be “an establishment engaged in the sale, manufacture for sale, or repair of firearms, ammunition and ammunition components, and hunting or shooting equipment.”

It would also restrict where such an establishment can be located, allowing them by right in shopping center districts (B-5) and permissible by conditional use approval in neighborhood (B-1) and service (B-2) business districts.

The Deck is in a general business (B-4) district.

During his staff report, Morgantown Director of Development Services Rickie Yeager said that instead of offering a recommendation, staff was offering two alternative options.

Option 1 adds the word “lease” to the definition cited above; as in the ability to lease firearms as well as sell them. It also removes the words “hunting or shooting equipment” from the definition.

Further, it would eliminate the B-1 zoning considerations in the Protect Morgantown proposal, leaving only B-5 by right and B-2 by conditional use.

Option 2 would include everything in Option 1 but would further pare down where such stores can locate through a supplemental “incompatible use separation” regulation.

The addition basically says a firearms retail establishment cannot be within  500 feet, as the crow flies,  of schools, college campuses/universities, medical centers, churches, places of worship, day care facilities, parks, libraries, and community centers.

A representative of Protect Morgantown said the group was fine with either alternative, but preferred Option 2.

Members of the planning commission said they preferred more time and information before moving forward.

“We’re telling people what they can and can’t do with their property and I think when we do that we’ve got to be really careful about what we’re doing and how we do it,” Commissioner Tim Stranko said.

Stranko went on to say that he would like staff to address questions pertaining to the relationship between gun stores and gun deaths, how the commission’s vote is intended to promote the general public welfare in terms of regulating an otherwise legal business and, lastly, general legal counsel in terms of any potential Second Amendment issues.

“I’m not ready to vote on this,” he said. “We have work to do here.”

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