Manassas pursues rules for sexually oriented businesses

By Jennifer Buske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Manassas City Council gave city staff members the go-ahead Monday to draft regulations for adult businesses in Manassas and hire legal experts, one of whom will help determine what, if anything, city officials can do about an adult store set to open next month in Old Town.

"We want to establish a regulatory precedent," said council member Jonathan L. Way (R). "We aren't trying to cut any new constitutional ground. We are looking to protect [the community] from undesirable businesses while still allowing those businesses to have their free speech."

The council's action came less than a month after Manassas officials and residents learned that a mother-daughter duo plans to open the sex shop KK's Temptations on Battle Street. The store, which plans to sell adult DVDs, lingerie, lotions and more, has been met mostly with resistance from the community because of its location in a quaint historic district. KK's Temptations owner Kim Skokan did not return a phone call for comment.

The resolution and action plan, passed unanimously after discussion in a closed council session Monday, budgeted $71,000 for the city's efforts to regulate sexually oriented businesses. The ordinance would create a separate license for such businesses and subject them to new rules. But "very little, if any, of this will apply to" KK's, said council member Andrew L. Harrover (R).

According to City Attorney Robert W. Bendall, adult businesses that engage in sexually explicit but lawful activities cannot be banned, but they also don't have the right to sell obscene material. Although Bendall said the city probably can't stop KK's Temptations from opening, council members directed staff members to get a second opinion from outside legal counsel, which will cost about $3,000.

The rest of the funding will go to hire one or two experts to help collect information about any negative secondary effects of those businesses and review the licensing ordinance and zoning regulations drafted by city staff members. City officials said that because there is a delicate balance between regulation and a business owner's constitutional rights, it is important to have experts on the issue examine the regulations before they are adopted.

Way said the goal will be to disperse the sexually oriented businesses and keep them away from churches, schools, playgrounds, day-care and youth centers, parks and libraries. Staff members will prepare a map, he said, of where they would be allowed in the city.

The licensing ordinance would allow city officials to regulate business hours and include criteria for suspension or revocation of the license, according to city documents. If legal, city officials also want to require that the owners of the businesses do not have relevant or serious criminal records.

The city attorney will also develop a prohibition ordinance for activities that do not have free speech protection, city officials said, and evaluate a stopgap zoning ordinance.

"I don't think the county wants to see another" adult business, said Mayor Harry J. "Hal" Parrish II (R). "The city will work with the commonwealth's attorney to make certain we do not have obscenity taking place in the city."

City officials said the ordinance should be drafted by the end of next month and reviewed by the experts by the end of November. The city Planning Commission is scheduled to vote on it Jan. 15. The City Council is set to vote on it Feb. 28.

"In my mind, we are acting as expeditiously as we reasonably can because of citizen outcry but also because we think it is the right thing to do," Way said. "You can't take away [people's] right to free speech, but you can confine them to an area where they aren't doing harm."

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