Council approves porn zone to clean up downtown

Published on Thu, Sep 13, 2001 by Meg Olson

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Council approves porn zone to clean up downtown

By Meg Olson

With some reluctance and one vote against, city council approved an ordinance that would move the city’s lone porn purveyor out of downtown by creating a special area for sex-related businesses.

Right up to the vote at their September 10 meeting, city council members reflected a malaise the public expressed in a three-month’s worth of focus groups town meetings and formal hearings – they don’t want it downtown, but they don’t really want it anywhere else either.

“I’m just so on the fence,” said council member Bonnie Onyon.
When it becomes law in 30 days, the ordinance would allow adult entertainment businesses to locate only in two manufacturing areas at the city’s south end: a 22-acre parcel east of Yew Avenue and Pipeline Road and 18 acres between Portal Way and the freeway. Businesses must be at least 500 feet from each other and 1,000 feet from schools, parks, churches and residential areas, and must be screened from neighboring uses. Non-conforming uses in other parts of the city have a year to move. In this case, the only business that it applies to is the Blaine Book Company.

Ernst Hertl, one of two property owners at the Portal Way site, said concentrating adult businesses in that area would be a safety risk for nearby neighborhoods. “Please consider all the kids,” he said.
Council member Marsha Hawkins said concerns about neighboring businesses and public safety were the most compelling
reason to establish the zone in one of the least used parts of town. “If we’re going to think about safety issues, they’re already here. Right now we’re a lot closer to a lot of businesses and kids walk by all the time,” she said of the Blaine Book Company’s current location in the heart of downtown.

Hawkins suggested that the overlay be limited to only the Pipeline site, and Onyon agreed, further suggesting access to the businesses be allowed only from Yew Avenue. “It would help mitigate concerns about passers-by on Pipeline,” she said. The overlay is adjacent to the Totally Chocolate factory.

Council members John Liebert and Ken Ely felt limiting the overlay further would jeopardize the legal viability of the ordinance.“We wouldn’t have a constitutional leg to stand on,” Liebert said. City attorney Jon Sitkin had previously explained that, while the city can regulate adult business to protect the best interests of its citizens, it can’t constitutionally pass laws that curtail the viability of such businesses in the city. They have to have somewhere to go.

“Limiting the number of sites combined with only one owner for the Pipeline site could limit accessibility,” Sitkin said. “With two sites the ordinance has a greater chance of defensibility.”

“This ordinance has been put together with some of the best legal counsel and planning we can aquire and extensive public input,” Ely said. “They have written this ordinance according to what can fly in a court of law. We aren’t going to make any more expert decisions than have already been made and we might screw it up.”

Frank Bresnan Jr., who was the lone vote against the ordinance, was not confident the ordinance was beyond legal reproach. “I don’t want to go to court anymore and keep spending your tax dollars,” he said. “I want us to continue putting pressure on that business as we have been, because we’re making headway.” The Blaine Book Company now faces up to $30,000 in fines for violating city laws for adult businesses.

Other council members felt the existing business wasn’t the only problem. “There’s only one now but there could be up to four downtown, as I understand it,” Hawkins said. City zoning now allows sex shops in the central business district if they maintain established distances from schools, parks, residential zones, and each other. “We think it’s a dying business but we’ve thought so for years. It’s still there,” Onyon added.

Ultimately, most council members felt insuring a clean downtown was worth some of the risks associated with creating a porn ghetto. “We have a higher use for our downtown,” said mayor Dieter Schugt. “As onerous as it may be, we need to move it out.”

The final ordinance includes a process for terminating non-conforming uses that starts with written notice to the business owner, who will have 12 months to move. The city will not provide any assistance with relocation but council can grant up to four six-month extensions if the owner applies and demonstrates financial hardship inflicted by the need to move..

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