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Morgantown Planning Commission supports regulating gun stores

MORGANTOWN — Exactly nine months after the Morgantown Planning Commission initially tabled the issue, the body delivered a unanimous vote Thursday in support of zoning text amendments limiting where firearms can be sold in the city. 

The amendments heading to Morgantown City Council for consideration define terms like “firearm” and “antique firearms.” They also define the new “firearms retail establishment” use and limit that use to B-5 (shopping center) by right and B-2 (service business) by conditional use, meaning it would need a vote and public hearing before the city’s board of zoning appeals. 

The application for zoning code changes was filed last August by Protect Morgantown, the community group that successfully pressured developer Hardy World to void a lease with firearms retailer Big Daddy Guns for The Deck development, at 1050 University Ave., which falls in a B-4 (general business) zoning district in the city’s downtown. 

Protect Morgantown organizer Jodi Hollingshead spoke in favor of the changes during Thursday’s meeting. 

“The psychological impact of having firearms retailers in areas where people go to explore and enjoy Morgantown is undoubtedly negative, especially given the increase in gun-related deaths in our country,” she said. 

Commissioner Tim Stranko said he believes the changes are in line with the city’s comprehensive plan and agrees there is a pychological impact on public health. 

“In light of the feckless federal and state legislatures on this issue, we can only do what we can do, which is regulate for the public health, and that’s what we’re doing here, regulating for the public health,” he said. 

Stranko later added, “We are solving a problem and that problem is the anxiety, the fear … I agree, this isn’t going to make it any more or less likely that something terrible is going to happen, but what it will do is hopefully make people feel more secure and relax perhaps a bit.” 

Chairman Peter DeMasters pointed out that the body took the time to have a data-driven discussion of the matter over the last nine months instead of trying to push the hot-button issue through. 

Ultimately, Commissioner Bill Petros said, the issue for him was more about matching businesses up with proper zoning districts than addressing larger societal ills. 

“That’s why I’m supportive of this, because we’re regulating on what type of business is going where. I’m not supporting it because I think it’s going to solve a problem in Morgantown, because I just don’t think it’s that proximity-related based on the data that we tried to derive from the literature and review here,” he said.