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The X-Rated Shop on the Corner

MVC Latenight DVD Provokes a Push To Revise the County's Zoning Rules

By Carol Morello
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 17, 2005; Page VA18

The building at the high-traffic intersection of Routes 28 and 29 in Centreville does not draw attention to itself.

Except for the cryptic signs that say "MVC Latenight DVD," it still looks much like the bank it once was, with a drive-in window jutting off the north side.

But to some of its neighbors and many county officials, MVC Latenight is an offensive eyesore in a town struggling to revitalize its historic center. The adults-only business that sells a variety of videos and sex paraphernalia drove right through the middle of a loophole that county attorneys warned about almost a decade ago.

Fairfax County has zoning regulations that specify where adult bookstores and theaters may be situated. But adult video stores are classified no differently from any other commercial enterprise. In the eyes of county zoning law, MVC Latenight is the same as, say, Blockbuster.

Only now, five months after MVC moved into the vacant building not far from four day-care centers and four churches, are county officials seeking to close the loophole.

"We do not want such establishments near houses of worship, schools, day-care centers and neighborhoods," said Gerald E. Connolly (D), chairman of the Board of Supervisors. "There are constitutional issues we obviously have to respect. But there may be zoning mechanisms we can deploy that would limit the presence of such establishments to certain industrial districts."

In confronting the issue, the county faces an experienced entrepreneur who has prevailed in several court cases resulting from efforts by local governments, including Fairfax and Prince William counties, to block his expanding chain of 10 adult stores in Northern Virginia, with locations in Falls Church, Springfield, Chantilly, Tysons Corner and the Alexandria section of Fairfax.

"We won the cases, not because we got anything over, but because we run straight, clean businesses," said John "Bo" Kenney, general manager of the Manassas-based chain. "Consumers who come in and buy our products are people like yourself and your neighbors. If they try to legislate laws against us, we will be there with a federal challenge."

In well-established case law, federal courts have prohibited governments from creating specific zones for sexually oriented businesses. But many jurisdictions have had success with laws requiring separation distances between sexually oriented businesses and schools, churches or residences. Most mandate a distance of 500 to 1,500 feet, said Eric Kelly, co-author of the American Planning Association guide, "Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Regulating Sex Businesses."

Field studies show people are most offended by sexually oriented businesses when they encounter them accidentally while doing other activities, such as going to church, walking children to school or heading to a bus stop.

"In these situations, they bother people a lot," said Kelly. "But you could locate them on a busy road with no sidewalks and it probably would not bother people much at all."

Kelly advises governments to write rules prohibiting adult businesses from locating near such places as public parks, YMCAs and community centers, churches and schools. He said few governments ban the businesses near day-care centers because parents usually drop their children off in the car and because toddlers are less impressionable than older children.

Kenney, MVC's general manager, said he did not realize that day-care centers and churches were nearby when he signed the lease, because they were shielded from view by a row of trees that has since been chopped down.

The Centreville store is on a well-traveled road, next to a small strip mall with a grocery, a Chinese restaurant and a check-cashing business.

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