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County passes adult-oriented businesses ordinance

August 27, 2004|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

The Berkeley County Commission passed an ordinance Thursday that restricts the location of adult-oriented businesses, despite emotional pleas from two women to slow down and get the law right the first time.

Shawn Fore, whose 7-year-old daughter attends an elementary school next to a store for adults, said she plans to attend all future commission meetings until a stronger ordinance is in place.

The ordinance, which takes effect Wednesday, controls the location of adult movie theaters, video or bookstores, strip clubs, adult novelty stores and nightclubs or bars that feature nude or seminude female or male dancers.

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Under the ordinance, such businesses cannot open within 2,000 feet of churches, schools, day-care facilities, public parks or recreational facilities, hotels, motels, bed and breakfast establishments and homes. Adult-oriented businesses also must be 2,000 feet from one another.

Existing businesses will be grandfathered in and will not be subject to the ordinance, unless the business is sold. It would then be required to conform to the law.

Norwood Bentley, the lawyer who wrote the county's ordinance, said that creating a stronger one might not be possible. He said the ordinance already might exceed the law.

Bentley said it's only a matter of time before a lawyer challenges the ordinance. He said he thinks a challenge is likely to come the first time someone wants to open an adult-oriented business and is told he or she cannot because of the ordinance.

The ordinance was drafted from a state law - but that law says that counties can only regulate the location of live adult entertainment, Bentley said.

Fore said that for $5,000 the county could hire a Tennessee attorney who specializes in writing such ordinances. That attorney's previous ordinances have survived lawsuits, she said.

"I really do want you to pass an ordinance," Fore told the commissioners. "But let's do it right the first time."

Alecia Knupp agreed.

"I'm glad they passed something, I really am. I just wish what they passed had more backbone," she said after the meeting.

Commissioner Howard Strauss countered that he wanted to pass Bentley's ordinance and amend it later if possible.

"My heart is with having a stronger ordinance but my head tells me that having a stronger ordinance will (accelerate) the time of having it court-tested," he said. "We may have gone overboard with this (ordinance)."

From now on, efforts should shift to encouraging legislators to pass a state law that gives counties more authority to regulate the locations of adult-oriented businesses, Strauss said.

Should such a state law be passed, the county could strengthen its ordinance, he said.

Knupp said she has contacted local legislators.

"Matter of fact, I spoke with three of those today," she said. One of the things she heard from them and others is that the county needs zoning.

The commissioners have talked about having voters decide whether to implement a zoning ordinance in the county.

Fore's daughter is a second-grader at Bunker Hill Elementary. Earlier this summer, a store named Slightly Sinful, which sells lingerie, videos and sex toys, opened next door to the school.

Fore said it was difficult to see her daughter off Thursday - the first day of school for students.

"It's the perfect elementary school except that next door is the world's worst neighbor for an elementary school," Fore said.

Fore and Knupp are members of CASS - Citizens Against Slightly Sinful. Over the summer, CASS members picketed the store nearly every day. They stood on school property holding signs.

Dwindling participation recently caused CASS to stop picketing, but ministers are considering renewing that effort.

Tommy Denney, associate minister at Cedar Grove Christian Church, said local church representatives and members of the public are invited to a meeting scheduled for Sept. 18 at 6 p.m. The meeting will be held at Bunker Hill Elementary School.

"We're going to brainstorm and come up with plan B," Denney said.

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