CARLSBAD — Local business owners won their appeal with the city to open the first gun retail store in Carlsbad in the coming months.
Defeating more than a year of rejection from city staff, the owners of Gunther Gifts gained approval from City Council at the April 30 meeting with a swing vote from Councilmember Lorraine Wood.
“I’m just so happy it went my way finally,” said Lisa Gunther, after the vote, as her husband Gregg Gunther hugged and kissed her over and over again. “I feel like I got justice.”
“I was praying, sitting in the car,” said Gregg, explaining that he thought he would jinx City Council’s decision if he watched the proceedings.
The Gunthers initially applied last year to obtain a conditional use permit to add retail abilities for their business Gunther Gifts, enabling them to transfer and sell firearms.
The Planning Commission and City Council denied their original application, claiming that it did not meet city requirements.
Lisa Gunther brought her application before the city a second time earlier this year after she added some changes to her proposal and gained further support from business associations operating near Gunther Gifts’ location off of Palomar Airport Road.
City planning staff recommended that City Council follow suit with the Planning Commission, which denied the new application in late March.
This recommendation from City Planner Don Neu and Associate Planner Shannon Werneke was based on the notion that retail allowances in the Planned Industrial zone, where Gunther Gifts is located, are intended for businesses that would serve other businesses in the zone on a daily basis.
“That’s kind of subjective, is it not?” said Councilmember Farrah Douglas, questioning which businesses would qualify as providing daily services in the zone. She countered planning staff’s examples of salons and dry cleaners, which are permitted in the Planning Industrial zone, saying that she does not use them on a daily basis.
“(The daily use qualification is) not based on a rule or a law, it’s based on feelings. That bothers me about this project,” Douglas said.
“We still feel this (a firearms store) would cater to the general public (instead of nearby businesses),” Werneke said in response.
In her presentation before City Council, Lisa Gunther emphasized that she has received all of the necessary licenses and passed all inspections from agencies that regulate firearm retailers.
She added that the firearm aspect of her business would remain discrete. Currently Gunther Gifts operates as an online gift and engraving company.
She insisted that her business would have to close because of tough economic times without a new revenue stream that selling firearms would provide.
“Please, we have everything else in place. Our business is in your hands,” Gunther said.
Owners of neighboring businesses spoke in favor of the Gunthers at the meeting, saying that they have been easy to work with in the past and maintain excellent security for their business.
No one else from the public commented on the application.
Four councilmembers voted on the matter when it came before City Council last year, and maintained their same stances.
Both Mayor Matt Hall and Mayor Pro Tem Mark Packard sided with the planning staff, agreeing that a gun store would not meet the requirements set out for retail stores in the Planned Industrial zone.
“The only concern I have is not whether they sell guns or not, it’s the retail use,” Hall said.
Councilmembers Douglas and Keith Blackburn again sided in favor of the applicant.
“I think this is an opportunity (for City Council) to get out of the way for a small business to succeed,” said Blackburn.
Elected to City Council late last year, Lorraine Wood did not vote on the original application and provided the deciding vote.
“The thing that swung me is that they are a business that is trying to survive in very hard times,” said Wood. She expressed her confidence in the business based on the Gunthers’ diligence and the support of the surrounding businesses.
City staff will come before City Council at its May 14 with a new resolution that will approve the Gunthers’ application for a Conditional Use Permit.
Lisa Gunther said that once her business obtains the permit, Gunther Gifts would begin selling firearms in two to three months.