Borough faces adult decisions

Posted: Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Selling adult books, videos and assorted playtime paraphernalia may promise lucrative returns for entrepreneurs, but such stores often can be problematic for public safety and property values, say supporters of a proposed borough ordinance that would regulate sexually oriented businesses.

Ordinance 2005-11, sponsored by assembly member Milli Martin of Diamond Ridge, is scheduled for a final public hearing May 3 in Seward. Martin said rumors of rising interest in opening sexually oriented businesses within the borough led her to put the regulatory ordinance before the assembly.

"It had been in the back of my mind for some time as something we needed to be doing," Martin said.

Developed by the borough's legal department, the ordinance language is based on similar laws in other parts of the country. That such an ordinance is necessary might be attributed to borough growing pains, Martin said.

"With growth comes change," she said. "But some things are, I think, not in the best interest of our young people. I'd like to have something on the books, something that takes a close look at this before it comes along."

The city of Soldotna recently passed a zoning ordinance regulating adult businesses, but the city's police powers give it added clout when it comes to regulating such business enterprises and their social fallout, Martin said.

"We don't have police powers," Martin said of the borough. "The only thing we have is zoning."

Martin said her prime motivation was protecting children, not only from contact with the products offered in adult enterprises, but also from the peripheral negative influences the businesses can attract, including drugs and other crime, noise, litter and threats to public health.

"I have to be upfront. I was thinking about our kids," Martin said.

Regulating and restricting sexually oriented businesses, or "SOBs," as they are referred to in the ordinance, is important for promoting "the health, safety and general welfare of borough residents," the ordinance reads. Martin said no pun was intended, but she admitted that her first reaction upon reading the acronym SOB was, "Oh, no!"

While regulations could prevent sexually oriented businesses from opening in inappropriate locations, minimize crime and prevent the loss of property value, the ordinance specifically notes it is not intended to impose limitations on the content of any communicative materials, including sexually oriented materials. Neither does it restrict or deny access by adults to materials protected by the First Amendment.

Further, the ordinance says it is not intended to deny distributors and exhibitors of such materials access to their intended markets.

At the same time, its language is not meant to condone or legitimize distribution of obscene material.

The proposed law defines sexually oriented businesses as adult arcades, adult bookstores, novelty stores or video stores, adult cabarets, adult motels, adult motion picture theaters, adult theaters, escort agencies and nude model studios.

However, the definition of nude model studio does not include a proprietary school licensed by the state or colleges and universities and would not preclude art classes studying the human form, for instance.

Under the ordinance, sexually oriented businesses would be required to apply for and obtain a borough permit to operate. An application and inspection fee of $300 would be required, and annual renewals would cost $150, under the proposed ordinance.

As originally proposed, the ordinance banned granting permits to sexually oriented businesses within 500 feet of houses of worship, schools, public parks and recreational areas, businesses licensed to serve alcohol, or entertainment businesses oriented toward children. On April 19, however, the assembly amended the ordinance to extend that distance to 1,000 feet.

Other sections of the ordinance govern what can and cannot happen in a sexually oriented businesses, places restrictions on age, contact between patrons and personnel and other provisions that take into account other state and local laws.

The proposed ordinance also includes a clause stating that should any portion be deemed unconstitutional or otherwise invalid, other parts of the ordinance would remain in effect.

Martin said Friday that she has been surprised by the lack of comment on the ordinance during public hearings. She said she does not know how her colleagues on the assembly view the proposed ordinance, but is hoping for their support.

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