The D.C. Zoning Commission voted yesterday to impose stiff, permanent rules that would virtually prohibit the establishment of new adult bookstores and other sexually orientated business in the downtown area and prevent their spread to other parts of the city.
The commission's unanimous action come chiefly in response to protests from residents of Georgetown, who objected to the establishment last spring of on adult bookstore at 3255 M St. NW. Other adult bookstores have opened on Georgia Avenue NW near Walter Reed Army Hospital.
In its order, the commission declared that "such businesss can create a poor visual imaze of areas, can reduce property values, can discourage investment of any new business capital in an area and can discourage and inhibit the leasing of space in a adjoining businesses."
Moreover, the commission added, "such businesses detract from the District as a tourist attraction, thereby creating an economic loss to the city."
And, the commission pointed out, the law under which it operates gives it power "to promote themorals of the community as one of the purposes of zoning."
The new rules will apply to bookstores newsstands, theaters and amusement enterprises that specialize in material's and performances "depicting, describing or related to specified sexual activities and specified anatomical areas."
Officials said the new rules are not aimed at theaters that specialize in X-rated movies but at the proliferation of store-front establishments that openly advertise films of sexual acts, called peep shows.
Such player typically are marked by gaudy neon signs and have windows painted over so passersby cannot view what is going on inside.
Of the 35 such establishments at last count in Washington, most are concentrated along a three-block section of High Street NW, around the two intercity bus terminals and on lower 9th Street NW. All are low-rent areas.
The new rules would not specifically apply to massage parlors, which are restricted by a regulation adopted in 1975, and bars licensed by the D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, many of which feature partly nude dancers.
In approving the regulation, the city's municipal planning officie and the Zoning Commission rejected other ways of dealing with such businesses. Boston, for example has concentrated all of them in a corner of downtown dubbed the "combat zone."
The new regulation here will go into effect after the National Capital Planning Commission reviews some minor changes in language from an earlier draft. Approval is viewed as certain. The measure will replace a stopgap regulation adopted by the zoning panel on an emergency basis in September.
At a public hearing in June, the curb on the sex shops was almost unanimously supported by witnesses. There were no objections at that time from shop owners, their lawyers or their landlords.
Louis P. Robbins, the city's principal assistant corporation counsel and lawyer for the Zoning Commission, said he was concerned by "the cumulative effect of these restrictions" contained in the new regulations.
"It must be remembered that most of the activities which will be regulated are constitutionally protected," he said in a memorandum to the commission. "Therefore, no significant deterrent on, or overall curtailment of, such activity is permissible."
However, he said he would be prepared to defent any legal challenge of the new zoning rules - which do not affect pornography shops and theaters already in business. If these shops and theaters go out of business, however, new pornography enterprises could not open in their place unless they conform to the new zoning regulations.
As adopted yesterday, the regulations would restrict the operation of the affected businesses to areas with two categories of commercial zoning - called C-3-b and C-4 - that are only found downtown, between Massachusetts and Penusylvania Avenues NW.
But the new restrictions within that areas are so light that Ben W. Gilbert, the D.C. municipal planning director, said it is doubtful that any downtown location could be found for a new sexually oriented business.
Affected businesses cannot be located within 600 feet of a residential or special-purpose zoning district, which cover 16th Street, much of Massachusetts Avenue and the Dupont Circle area.
In addition, they cannot be located within 600 feet of a church, school, library or playground: the section of Pennsylvania Avenue between the Capitol and the White House, or any federal building that faces Pennsylvania Avenue. That would put new shops off linits along 9th Street, near the new FBI Building.
Finally, a new sexually orientated business cannot be located within 200 feet of another such business. At present, as many as five such shops are located or one block of 14th Street.