ARLINGTON, Va. — Chalk up another victory up for NOVA Armory. The suburban Virginia firearms store beat back an appeal late Wednesday night that asked the Arlington County Zoning Board to revoke its small business occupancy permit.
The five-member board voted unanimously to uphold issuing the occupancy certificate to NOVA Armory, though board members stressed that their decision was based on zoning rules rather than the Second Amendment.
Local Second Amendment activists wearing “Guns Save Lives” stickers packed the Arlington hearing room and sat through three hours of residents’ requests for zoning permits relating to various property issues. In the final hour, numerous Arlington residents and representatives of local organizations spoke on behalf of NOVA Armory.
Three women — Bernadette Brennan, Julia Young and Emily Hughes — appealed the permit and tried to get the occupancy certificate repealed, claiming that “the application for the certificate of Occupancy contains false and misleading information and therefore the permit was issued in error.”
Brennan spoke for the trio and argued that NOVA Firearms misled zoning authorities about the true ownership of the business and that the business owner gave a “false” description of the retail use in the permit application.
Although Dennis Pratte is listed as the owner of the store in the application, Brennan cited a Washington Post story that stated that his 16-year-old daughter Lauren claimed to be the owner.
“Mr. Pratte has clarified in subsequent media interviews that he is training his daughter to take over the business but that he remains the principal on all leases, permits, legal documents,” the three women argued in their appeal, saying that Pratte’s daughter is not old enough to enter into contracts and is not a federal firearms license holder.
Pratte’s attorney Daniel Hawes dismissed that claim. “The Certificate of Occupancy for the property in question clearly identifies the owner of the business, the specific location, and bears the signature of Arlova Vonhm, the Acting Zoning Administrator,” he said.
Hawes stated that Pratte’s daughter is a part-time employee and manager in training at the store. He said she was background checked, as required by law, for the job and does not work on the premises without adult supervision.
“Lauren Pratte is not an owner of the business, is not the lessee of the premises, is not the alter ego of Broadstone Security, LLC, and works in the store as an employee part time,” Hawes stated in his memorandum to the board.
Hawes also argued that the trio had no standing to appeal the permit, because they did not meet the threshold of an aggrieved party.
“None of these appellants meets the threshold, because none of the appellants has alleged that he /she owns property that is the subject of the land use determination, thus establishing that he/she has a direct, immediate, pecuniary, and substantial interest in the decision,” Hawes said.
Some members expressed sympathy for the gun store opponents, despite their final vote.
“I did not find all the claims made in this appeals to be frivolous. Even though I didn’t find them meritorious after having examined them, I don’t think they were specious or frivolous,” one member said.
Another member agreed, saying, “For us this is not about a Second Amendment right. It’s very narrow. So our personal feelings about how we feel about this gun store or any gun store or guns in general is completely not relevant to our decision here. It is a technical decision based on a zoning question.”
Pratte appeared relieved after the hearing ended, regardless of the final remarks from the members.
“I’m just happy it turned out the way it did. I think they saw what this was all about, and they realized that we were operating within the law and they voted appropriately,” he told the Daily Caller.
NOVA Armory’s battle with the law is not over yet. The business has sued state officials and local residents, claiming that they engaged in a “conspiracy to injure another in his trade or business.”
Hawes told TheDC he is “optimistic” about the case where his client is asking for over $2 million in damages.