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Adult business ordinance vote put on hold in Berkeley Co.

August 13, 2004|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - A plan to regulate the location of adult-oriented businesses in Berkeley County was again put on hold Thursday, after a resident said she has uncovered a similar ordinance in another county that should be used as an effective model.

Alecia Knupp, of Inwood, W.Va., said she found a copy of a draft ordinance prepared for Greenbrier County, W.Va., that is more in depth than a draft version prepared for Berkeley County. She gave a copy of the ordinance to Berkeley County Commission members, who agreed to review it and revisit the issue in two weeks.

Waiting any longer might mean other adult-oriented businesses could open and not have to follow guidelines established by the ordinance, Berkeley County Commissioner Howard Strauss said.

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"To me that would be devastating," Strauss said.

Knupp is with a group called CASS - Citizens Against Slightly Sinful. Slightly Sinful is the name of an adult clothing and accessories shop that opened next door to Bunker Hill Elementary School earlier this summer. Since the shop opened, CASS members have picketed it daily, Knupp said.

Along with researching the Greenbrier County case, Knupp said she spoke to an attorney in Chattanooga, Tenn., who is an expert on preparing ordinances dealing with adult businesses. She said she knows people who are willing to pay his $5,000 fee if the county cannot or will not pay it.

"The money's there. We've already got it if need be," Knupp told the commissioners. "Something that's going to be effective is really needed."

Knupp said CASS' 250 members are worried that the ordinance prepared for Berkeley County lacks the teeth needed to keep adult businesses away from churches and schools.

She said her group is not disparaging Norwood Bentley, the county attorney who prepared the ordinance.

Bentley's draft ordinance would regulate adult movie theaters, video or book stores, 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 2,000 feet of churches, schools, day-care facilities, public parks or recreational facilities, hotels, motels, campgrounds, bed and breakfast establishments, and homes.

Bentley has expressed concerns about the ordinance he prepared, saying it might exceed a state law that only allows counties to regulate businesses featuring live adult entertainment.

Plus, he said, the state law seems to assume that a county has zoning in place, which Berkeley County does not.

Last week, Bentley told the commissioners that he has heard from lawyers who plan to challenge the ordinance if it is passed.

"If you want my honest opinion, I don't think that (the ordinance) would withstand any real scrutiny before a court," Bentley said.

Because Strauss and Commissioner Steve Teufel both said they want to pass an ordinance as soon as possible, they said they might pass the county's draft ordinance and revise it later.

Greenbrier County passed its ordinance dealing with exotic entertainment businesses in February 2002. An employee in the Greenbrier County Commission office said she does not believe the ordinance has been challenged in court.

Like Berkeley County's, the ordinance in Greenbrier County declares that exotic businesses must be 2,000 feet from schools, churches, homes and facilities that offer family entertainment, such as pools, parks and movie theaters.

Zoning is not in place in Greenbrier County, although it is present in the county seat, Lewisburg. Similarly, in Berkeley County there is a zoning ordinance in Martinsburg.

Even if the adult-oriented business ordinance is passed, it would not affect business at Slightly Sinful, which sells ladies lingerie, jewelry, candles, videos and "marital aids."

Existing businesses like Slightly Sinful would be grandfathered in.

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