Manassas sex shop ordinance draws little public comment

By Jennifer Buske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 18, 2010; 9:57 PM

A proposed ordinance triggered by an adult store opening in Old Town Manassas drew few speakers Monday - a reversal from September, when hundreds packed the City Council chambers mostly to speak against the new business.

The ordinance would regulate the location, hours of business, signage and window displays of sexually oriented business in Manassas. Council members asked the city staff to draft the ordinance after learning that the adult store KK's Temptations was planning an October opening on Battle Street. The store, which sells products including adult DVDs, lingerie and lotions, has met resistance from community members who have cited its location in a quaint historic district.

"This [ordinance] is a balance between two important issues: One is freedom of expression, and the other to control the negative impacts" such businesses could have on a city, said council member Jonathan L. Way (R). "This is not an attack on KK's. As long as they adhere to their license and don't have any obscene material, they won't have a problem from the city."

The council will hold its first vote next week on the ordinance, which is expected to pass. The earliest it could take effect is early December.

The ordinance would forbid sexually oriented businesses within 500 feet of any residential or agricultural zoning or of many other places, including libraries, public museums, schools and churches. Such businesses could be open only from 9 a.m. to midnight, could not have any adult merchandise visible from outside and would have to be run by people 18 or older.

The ordinance, modeled after Prince William County's, would be in effect until April, when city officials plan to propose a more permanent one. The city has invested nearly $71,000 toward its efforts to regulate sexually oriented businesses. A portion of those funds have gone to Eric Damian Kelly, a lawyer with Duncan Associates, who is crafting the next ordinance. Kelly, according to the company's Web site, is a litigation consultant and expert witness in cases across the country involving the regulation of sex shops.

"I think this [ordinance] is a good first step, and I want to commend council for taking action," Manassas resident Steven Thomas said Monday. "I'm looking forward to seeing the final ordinance. I think in the end it will be money well spent, especially if it will prevent a lawsuit."

Council member Marc T. Aveni (R) said that although the ordinance is a good interim step, he wants a stricter one in the spring. Aveni questioned whether sexually oriented businesses could be located 1,000 feet - not 500 - from the places listed in the ordinance. Aveni said he would also like to further restrict the hours of operation and be able to regulate the wording on the businesses' signs.

City Attorney Martin R. Crim said city officials followed Prince William's ordinance because they knew it could stand up in court. Crim said that trying to regulate wording on signs would be difficult because proprietors have First Amendment rights, as long as what is displayed is not obscene.

Four residents spoke at the public hearing, all backing the regulations. But like Aveni, some wanted to go further. Residents suggested that there be stricter regulations in the historic district and that sexually oriented businesses not be allowed near children's stores.

"Can a historic district be considered differently, more strictly, than a strip mall?" asked Manassas resident Chuck Donovan, who was one of four to speak Monday.

Crim said any changes to the interim ordinance would require it to go back to the Planning Commission instead of being voted on by the council next week. That, he said, would defeat the purpose of trying to get regulations in place quickly.

The ordinance would have little, if any, effect on KK's Temptations because it is already open and followed all the city's current regulations, city officials said.

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