The Mayor and Council again extended the moratoria on the issuance of business licenses and zoning approval for sexually oriented businesses. The restrictions will now continue until at least March 1. The extension gives the council time to put together and vote on the appropriate ordinances.
For months, the council has been hearing proposals from staff on potential ordinances to govern the future of the sex shop industry in Ocean City. We believe the city is making it harder than it has to be here because there actually is no future in our estimation.
Currently on the table before the Mayor and Council is legislation calling for a 300-foot buffer between any sexually-themed business and a residential area and a 300-foot separation between any such business and conflicting uses such as the Boardwalk, churches and other family areas such as miniature golf courses and parks. This means less than 1 percent of the developable land and less than 5 percent of commercially zoned land could house a sex shop. The council has flirted with many proposals, some suggesting a less stringent 150 feet, but the latest proposal seems to be near approval.
The council should simply go with the most restrictive plan it can draft and see what happens. There has been concern expressed there could be legal challenges from businesses looking to set up shop and not finding adequate opportunities. That’s true, but it’s a risk the town should take. Yes, to cover constitutional requirements, the town needs to provide a certain amount of space for these types of businesses. The city is doing just that. The question will be whether it’s enough. We say let a judge decide that down the road if it ever comes to it.
What needs to be remembered here is there’s not a demand for sex shops in Ocean City. There’s not a line of entrepreneurs waiting to open up sex shops up and down the island because the fact is there’s no market for it. With commercial rent prices high for most properties, a small year-round community and a vacation base made up largely of families, sex shops will not strive in Ocean City. Rational business minds understand this.
The council needs to just draft the ordinance in its most restrictive form and move on. The council should just roll the dice. If it’s challenged by a business owner, the city can address it then by more than likely making some simple text changes to the already approved ordinance. Let’s get a tough law on the books with a little wiggle room and then see what happens. Under normal circumstances, that’s not a rational approach for a government to take, but, in this case, it’s the best course of action.