SALEM — The Zoning Board of Appeals unanimously rejected a Nahant resident's bid to open a gun shop on the outskirts of downtown Salem after a twice-postponed hearing debated whether the business would serve a community need.
The board voted with five members opposed and none in favor of Anthony Picariello Jr.'s application after about an hour and a half of discussion. The vote aligned with public comment on the matter that was sharply opposed, with 63 negative comments and only three in support submitted in writing before the meeting and 10 residents who testified at the meeting against the proposal.
"I don't think that we need any more potential vulnerability in the neighborhood for bad actors to be tempted to do something that could have terrible consequences," said Polly Wilbert, president of the South Salem Neighborhood Association and a Cedar Street resident. "I'd ask the board to consider the dense residential surroundings of this site, the fact that it's zoned residential."
The proposal, unpopular in Salem before a meeting was even held to discuss it, comes as the city faces a rash of gun violence. Throughout the pandemic and into 2021, repeated shootings have hit The Point, a densely packed majority-minority neighborhood located just a couple blocks east of Florence Street. Police have said work to investigate the incidents is relying on witness cooperation, though several have led to arrests and charges of suspects.
To open the hearing, project attorney Philip Moran said Salem has "several thousand licensed gun owners," and that "there have been record gun sales in the past 12 months with a need for ammunition, and in fact, people may need to purchase guns with the way things are going."
Moran followed that by asking what the negative impacts of the application were. "More guns? Is this really an adverse effect? I submit no, since they'll only be sold to responsible and legally licensed gun owners for self-defense, hunting or recreational shooting."
Then, "is it close to the Point? I submit no," Moran said. "Is it close to schools? I submit that's irrelevant."
The proposal needed a ZBA special permit to obtain a license to sell firearms from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF).
The first question from the Zoning Board of Appeals at that point came from member Paul Viccica, asking Moran to clarify what he meant by "the way things are going."
"More people are buying guns," Moran said, "because they don't feel safe anymore with what's going on in this city, this state, this country."
Speaking later, Salem police Sgt. John Doyle said gun sales "have increased historically more than any other year right now. There is demand, just to throw that out there as a side note."
But as discussion continued, the proposal's surroundings became the main topic. While the street is zoned for three-family residential properties, it has several business-related uses. The proposed site, however, is surrounded by residential properties, several of them multi-family.
"I have many pictures standing next to 1 Florence, at the car wash, looking in several directions. This is residential," said Hancock Street resident Jeff Cohen. "Attorney Moran said in the presentation that the proximity to schools isn't relevant — there's a day care just a couple blocks (away) on Canal Street."
Lucy Corchado, a Chase Street resident and president of the Point Neighborhood Association, noted the spike in crime that has been felt in the city recently. She added, "I don't see a gun shop serving as a solution to this. Access to guns I don't believe will help the situation."
Moments later, Federal Street resident Alice Merkl also highlighted the gun violence issue.
"Gun violence is a public health crisis," she said. "Within the residential surroundings of this location, I don't see any public benefit in issuing a special permit for this gun shop."
Two residents spoke in favor. One was Jeff Guy, a South Street resident, who said he has no opposition to guns.
"I grew up on West Avenue, lived on Broadway, Hancock, Garden Street," Guy said. "If there was a place where something like firearms were to be traded, that type of area is probably a lot better than downtown Salem."
"It's a great idea," added Jeff McNally, a Gallows Hill Road resident. "I have to go to Woburn any time I need to purchase anything or need anything. I just want to say I'm for this."
Visit bit.ly/3epYWSc to read live coverage of this meeting.