Council Eyes Severe Restrictions For Sex Shops

OCEAN CITY –The end date for the moratorium on sexually oriented businesses has been postponed yet again, with the City Council unanimously agreeing this week to extend the moratorium until March 1, giving them more time to pass ordinances regarding the issue.

City Planner Jesse Houston made another appearance before the Mayor and Council this week to discuss the ongoing issue of zoning and licensing for sexually oriented businesses.

The town currently houses one sexually oriented business on 137th Street and Coastal Highway. The sole business sparked a panic among many residents this spring, forcing the Mayor and Council to enact a moratorium on the so-called sex shops until the licensing and zoning issues could be worked out.

The Mayor and Council have gone back and forth over the issue for months, trying to decide on the amount of space that should be zoned for sexually oriented businesses. The council decided this week that it wants the most restrictive option, which calls for the least amount of space for sexually oriented businesses.

In September, Houston came before the Mayor and Council with two scenarios of where sexually oriented businesses could set up shop. The two scenarios were the foundations of possible ordinances. The Mayor and Council requested further scenarios from Houston, hoping to find one that would not be too restrictive, but also would not result in too many possible locations for sexually oriented businesses. The possibility of a lawsuit being filed against the town for being too restrictive became a concern.

Houston came before the Mayor and Council again last month to present a variety of options. All of the scenarios called for a 150-foot buffer between sexually oriented businesses and residential areas. Each scenario also called for a buffer between sexually oriented businesses and certain types of existing uses such as the Boardwalk, mini-golf courses, churches, and parks. The buffer ranged from 300 to 600 feet. The council agreed at that time to move forward with the most restrictive option.

This week the Mayor and Council reviewed the most restrictive option, which calls for 150 feet between sexually oriented businesses and residential areas and 600 feet between sexually oriented businesses and certain existing uses. The option would yield 21.5 acres, one percent of developable land and five percent of commercially-zoned land for sexually oriented businesses.

Houston reminded the Mayor and Council that the moratorium ends Feb. 1 and that two ordinances, one for zoning and one for licensing, needed to be passed before then.

Mayor Rick Meehan expressed his desire for a scenario that would be even more restrictive, pointing out that 150 feet is not a large enough distance between a sexually oriented business and a residential area. He added that a lawsuit would be an issue they could face later, if it ever occurred.

Councilwoman Nancy Howard agreed that a more restrictive scenario would be more beneficial to the town, suggesting that a 300-foot buffer between residential and sexually oriented businesses be required.

“It’s the nature of where we live,” she said.

The council voted unanimously to extend the moratorium until March 1 and to have Houston return after the holidays with a more restrictive scenario.

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