Following complaints from neighbors, the Cobb Planning Commission told architect and former developer Lamar Cheatham, a Class 3 dealer in firearms, that he could no longer continue selling merchandise out of his northeast Cobb home.
Cheatham said he doesn’t have a big business in dealing with restricted weapons.
“Generally what I do is I handle things for other people around the country, or if somebody knows me and wants something, then I’ll do it,” he said. “Because I don’t have a storefront or do it full time, then I don’t advertise. But I just know a large amount of the major players around the country.”
Guns he’s sold before include the 1917 Browning water-cooled machine gun, which today he said costs about $22,000 to $23,000; the original Colt M16A1, which runs about $22,000; the Thompson M1 submachine gun, which costs about $18,000; the 1921 Thompson submachine gun, which can cost $35,000; the Mark I Vickers Machine Gun, which costs about $18,000 to $20,000; the MP40 used by the Germans in WWII, which runs about $12,000; and the British Sten submachine, which he’s sold for about $9,000.
Three years ago Cheatham moved from the city of Marietta to northeast Cobb after his business “selling expensive homes went down the tube” in the recession, he said.
Last year Cheatham applied for a business license with the county.
“When I went in to get my business license, they said, ‘Oh no, you’ve got to have a zoning variance out there.’ I said, ‘Why?’ They said, ‘Oh, that’s the code.’”
Cheatham said the city of Marietta never had a problem giving him a business license when he lived there.
“Plus, (Sheriff) Neil Warren and the Deputy Chief of Marietta, they’ve been over to the house, lot of those people have, and they didn’t want me to have a storefront,” Cheatham said. “A private business, and by private I mean a business that’s not advertised, is in everyone’s favor, plus we all enjoy the things anyway.”
John Pederson, the county’s zoning division manager, said Cheatham would need to apply for a land use permit if he wanted to continue selling firearms from his house.
On Tuesday, the Cobb Planning Commission voted 4-0 to deny the request at the recommendation of Commissioner JoAnn Birrell’s appointment to the Planning Commission, Christi Trombetti.
The matter now heads to the April 16 meeting of the Board of Commissioners.
Neighbors speak against business
Neighbors who spoke against Cheatham’s zoning request were Carlton Stott, Ben Moravitz and Greg Holzhauer.
Moravitz said Cheatham doesn’t own the house where he is living.
“The applicant is a tenant,” Moravitz said. “The house is owned by a non-resident landlord. I do not believe that they have the same interests in the neighborhood that the resident owners do have.”
Moravitz complained that allowing Cheatham to operate a commercial business in the neighborhood could harm his property values. He also said some of the orders could end up at the wrong address.
“There is a significant possibility of these articles being delivered to other residences besides his,” Moravitz said.
Moravitz said the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives warns about how businesses like Cheatham’s are targeted for theft.
“Should criminals case his residence, their attention could be drawn to my residence three doors away or other immediate neighbors, and we could be mistaken targets or launching places for theft to his house,” Moravitz said.
Holzhauer said he was concerned about how Cheatham’s firearms were being secured.
“At a recent homeowners meeting, we asked for information about how he was securing these arms, and he was unforthcoming, so we do not know how he is securing these firearms,” Holzhauer said.
In making the recommendation to deny Cheatham’s request, Trombetti said she shared the concern neighbors had about security.
“If it is a business, no matter how minor or how low the activity would be, just the fact that it is a business and not just a collection, I think would increase the need for commercial-type security that isn’t typically provided or available in a residential structure,” Trombetti said.
Chairman Tim Lee’s appointment to the Planning Commission, Judy Williams, also took issue with the fact that Cheatham didn’t own the house.
“The reason I support denial is because you’re a tenant there, you’re not an owner of the property so you don’t have a vested interest. The people, your neighbors, have vested interest in the protection of their property, and they’re entitled to the safety of their neighborhood,” Williams told him.
Opposition out of fear
Cheatham said after the meeting there are two kinds of people who oppose what he is doing.
“One is the person that doesn’t like firearms, doesn’t know anything about them, and are scared to death about them, the Dianne Feinsteins,” he said. “Then you’ve got the others that don’t want anybody to have any kind of business license to run a business out of the subdivision. They say, ‘I don’t do it, and nobody else should be able to.’”
Cheatham said one of his neighbors has circulated a false letter claiming Cheatham sells grenades, and, in fact, Moravitz claimed at the hearing he sold explosives.
“That would be a different license. These people are just throwing things out there to alarm people,” Cheatham said.
If the Board of Commissioners upholds the Planning Commission’s denial, Cheatham said he will have to look for another location to host his business license, a financially burdensome task given his recent open heart surgery five months ago.
“Which means I’d have to go to a lot of expense,” he said. “Well here I’ve been foreclosed and lost an awful lot of stuff, and I’ve got all these medical expenses, and I need these expenses like a hole in the head.”