Property Owner Rejects Adult Business At WOC Site

WEST OCEAN CITY – Rumors that an adult bookstore had
leased a high-profile property on Route 50 in West Ocean City stirred up unrest
this week among residents and officials.

The rumor making the rounds in recent weeks had it that an
adult bookstore was negotiating to lease the former Harley-Davidson shop at the
intersection of Route 50 and Keyser Point Rd., most recently home to gourmet
food shop Avalon Market, which recently closed its doors after negotiations
over rent were unsuccessful.

Oyster Harbor resident Claudia Gausepohl overheard a local
realtor discussing the deal last week, she said, and immediately became

“I don’t think it’s appropriate,” said Gausepohl.

The site is not far from Ocean City Elementary School.
According to Gausepohl, school buses and parents mainly use Keyser Point Rd. to
access the school.

Gausepohl said she is concerned about what the store would
sell and promote and also about the crowds of curious patrons the store would

“This is a main entrance to Ocean City. Do we want all of
the people coming into Ocean City to see this?” Gausepohl asked.

The store, she said, would send the message, “Welcome to
Ocean City. We support porn.”

Walter Taralia of Weichert Realtors confirmed the rumor
was true that an adult business had inquired about opening up at the location.
However, he said the property owner, Harley Davidson of Ocean City, rejected
the offer.

“That’s not the kind of business we hope to have in
there,” said Bruce Bennett, whose family owns the property in question as well
as the Harley-Davidson store on Route 50 and Seahawk Road. “We had an offer but
we denied it. We just didn’t feel it was good for the property.”

Taralia said the Bennetts simply chose not to accept the
proposed new tenant.

“It wasn’t the long-term tenant they were looking for,”
said Taralia. “The owners have a right not to rent.”

Neighbors in the area applauded the Bennett’s decision not
to accept the new tenant.

“I’m impressed they would turn down an offer,” Gausepohl
said. “In this day and age, most people just want to take the money and run,”

The site is prime real estate, Taralia said, and he has
received other offers to lease it.

Bennett said they hope to have a new tenant in the
building, empty since the end of February, soon. “We’ve had a lot of people
very interested in it,” he said.    

The Oyster Harbor Homeowners Association wants to make
sure sexually-oriented establishments do not set up anywhere within the

“As a community, we’re going to send a letter to the
County Commissioners,” said Joy Snyder, a member of the Oyster Harbor Board of
Directors as well as a prominent realtor. “The Board of Directors as a whole
takes opposition to it.”

Prior to this week’s news, the County Commissioners were
already looking into regulating sexually oriented businesses, after the
controversy over an adult store opening in Ocean City in March, said
Commissioner Bud Church, who represents West Ocean City.

“I am staying right on top of it,” Church said. “I’m as
concerned as anyone in my district.”

The county has engaged a law firm to look into regulating
sexually-oriented businesses, from adult book and video stores to topless bars.

“We’re exploring that possibility,” Church said. “They are
working on it as we speak.”

The law firm’s opinion should be complete soon, likely by
mid-May, he said.

Last month, Ocean City imposed a six-month moratorium on
new sexually-oriented businesses after citizens complained about the new adult
shop. The town will use the time to put together controls on adult businesses.

“We’re looking to regulate sexually-oriented businesses,”
said Ocean City Solicitor Guy Ayres. “That does not necessarily mean we’re
trying to prevent them.”

Zoning laws are likely to be established to control where
such businesses are located, including defining minimum distances between
sexually-oriented establishments and churches, as well as residential
neighborhoods, and other adult businesses.

Business license requirements could restrict the types of
adult businesses allowed and impose a minimum age for patrons.

“You have to be very careful,” Ayres said. “Codes cannot
be designed to eliminate or not allow them.”

Church agreed regulating locations for adult-themed
business is a slippery slope. “It’s tough, it’s very tough,” said Church.

The Ocean City Planning Commission is looking into the
changes now, Ayres said.

Ocean City faces problems that the county does not, as the
resort is geographically confined. The town does not have the heavily
commercialized or industrial neighborhoods that many cities restrict sexually
oriented establishments to. “Where are you going to put them?” Ayres asked.

While the former Avalon Market will not become home to an
adult bookstore, such businesses could still move in elsewhere in the county.

“What the average voter doesn’t understand is you can’t
just write an ordinance saying you can’t put in [an adult] bookstore,” Church