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County ordinance aimed at location of adult businesses

May 14, 2004|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

Berkeley County is moving forward with a county ordinance that would prohibit adult-oriented businesses, including bookstores and strip clubs, from opening within a specified distance of a church, school or business.

Berkeley County Commission members Steve Teufel and Howard Strauss discussed the six-page draft ordinance at their meeting Thursday and voted to forward it to the county Planning Commission since it deals with land-use issues. The county does not have any zoning.

A public hearing will be scheduled, commissioners said.

Although recent public outcry has centered on an adult bookstore/lingerie shop that is set to open across the street from Bunker Hill Elementary School, Teufel said the ordinance was planned before that.

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"A lot of people have had enough," Teufel said. He called the lingerie shop "fuel to the fire."

Existing businesses would be grandfathered-in and not be subject to provisions in the ordinance, said county attorney Norwood Bentley.

The ordinance would regulate adult movie theaters, video or bookstores, strip clubs, adult novelty stores and nightclubs or bars that feature nude or semi-nude female or male dancers.

Such businesses would not be allowed to open within a specified distance of churches, schools, day-care facilities, public parks or recreational facilities, hotels, motels, campgrounds, bed and breakfast establishments, and homes.

Adult businesses also must be a specified distance apart, according to the ordinance.

Although Bentley put in a 2,000-foot distance provision, Strauss said he would like to see that extended to 3,000 feet. A mile is 5,280 feet.

Any distance within reason can be included in the ordinance, said Bentley, who has expressed concerns about whether the ordinance could affect First Amendment rights.

The third paragraph of the ordinance reads, "It is not the intent of this ordinance to suppress any protected speech but, rather, to address the location of businesses offering exotic entertainment within Berkeley County."

Richard Talbott, with a local group calling itself CASS, or "Citizens Against Slightly Sinful," said Thursday night the ordinance is overdue. "Slightly Sinful" is the name of the bookstore/lingerie shop set to open across from Bunker Hill Elementary.

"This is, again, the straw that broke the camel's back," Talbott said.

Talbott's wife is a teacher at the elementary school and his children attended the school. Some parents are threatening to remove their children from the school, he said.

He posed a hypothetical scenario of what might happen should a kindergartner accidentally wander over to the business and meet an unsavory customer.

Talbott said he has been to all 50 states and lived in many, being the son of a U.S. Marine. What's happening in Berkeley County is a shame and an embarrassment, he said.

Other states, he said, seem to have "their act together," since many of the cars in strip club parking lots have out-of-state license plates.

Several strip clubs are along U.S. 11 south of Martinsburg and W.Va. 9 east of the city. A telephone book advertisement for one of the clubs boasts "Full nudity," "Up to 45 girls" and "Coming soon: Video lottery, shower room, hot tub & champagne rooms." The ad gives directions for patrons coming from Virginia and Maryland.

Bentley said he modeled his ordinance on a similar one being considered in Morgan County. He said, however, that he took out several parts of Morgan County's ordinance that he deemed inappropriate.

Morgan County officials are planning to charge licensing fees for adult businesses, but Bentley said only the state has such authority.

He said the Planning Commission could charge a review fee, as it would for any commercial business.

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