Resort Aims To Narrow Sites For Adult Businesses

OCEAN CITY – After weeks of outcries from several local
residents demanding zoning codes and other types of regulations on sexually
oriented businesses in the town, only one resident was in attendance to show
support of the regulations at the Planning and Zoning Commission’s public
hearing Tuesday night.

The purpose of the public hearing was to consider a draft
of amendments to the town’s zoning code concerning those types of adult themed
establishments. However, following a reading of the draft, some questions arose
concerning future implications that might have officials going back and
changing some of the restrictions, mainly those dealing with distances.

According to the drafted amendment which was unanimously
approved, sexually oriented businesses must be separated by a distance of 600
feet, from property line to property line, of any places of worship, such as
churches, synagogues, mosques and temples, or other places related to religious

The 600-foot rule goes on to include public and private
educational facilities such as day cares, preschools, high schools, etc. Public
parks and recreational areas like playgrounds, athletic fields and the skate
park are also included.

Further places included in the 600-foot rule are
businesses that cater primarily toward children or family entertainment, dry
nightclubs such as H20, the Boardwalk, and public beaches.

Other distance regulations mentioned in the amendment is
one that prohibits sexually oriented businesses from being with 600 feet of one
another. Another regulation says the adult themed stores must also be 150 feet
away from any dwelling, including mobile homes and manufactured housing.

Lastly, the sexually oriented businesses will only allowed
to be in areas zoned SC-1 and LC-1, or shopping centers and local commercial

If these regulations become official, Director of Planning
and Community Development Jesse Houston said it would leave 1 percent,
approximately 59 acres, of Ocean City’s total city limits available for
sexually oriented businesses, thus affectively protecting the rights under the
1st Amendment that say some place must be provided for them. Those areas would
include the shopping center at 120th Street and an area along the bayside of
49th Street.

According to the drafted amendment, if an adult themed
store currently existing does not meet these regulations, such as SexStyle
located in the Bayside Shopping Plaza on 137th Street, they are deemed

According to that section of the code, those businesses
deemed nonconforming would be allowed to remain that way for a period of one
year before they are in violation of the zoning code. In SexStyle’s case, they
would have to move after a year of the code becoming active since they are in
violation of the 600-foot rule regarding the Old Pro Miniature Golf
establishment to their immediate south.

This would mean the store would have to relocate to one of
the areas zoned for sexually oriented businesses. However, this could be a
problem for the store if there are no vacancies because it would essentially
put it out of business and even if there are vacancies, leasing prices may also
keep them out.

This process, also known as amortization, or the gradual
liquidation of something, is usually upheld in courts but only if it is
reasonable and not arbitrary. So as long as the town is providing a zoning area
for adult themed stores, regardless if space is available or if it is
commercially profitable, they remain within the law.

However, this raises a hypothetical question. If one of
the establishments requiring a 600-foot buffer would move into those areas
currently available before a sexually oriented business does, where do they go
then? Will the town then have to look at zoning once again in order to find a
place to allow them?

According to Houston, yes.

“Something like that would impact those areas and you have
to have enough available locations to accommodate them,” he said. “It would
then be a matter of readjusting or looking at the requirements to find other
places for them.”

But what if one of the 600-foot buffer establishments
moved into a vacancy within 600 feet of an already existing adult themed store?
Does that now make the adult store nonconforming? Houston said that is another
good question but one he would have to research further to see what other
municipalities have done in the past.

As for sexually oriented businesses that happen to open in
areas zoned for them, the drafted amendments have further restrictions on how
they operate, most of which were taken from the regulations regarding dry
nightclubs, according to Houston.

These include requiring patrons to be 18 years of age,
requiring all business to take place completely inside an enclosed building,
prohibiting the outside amplification of any sound, and prohibiting outside
hawking, soliciting of customers, electronic displays, and dissemination of
promotional materials.

The regulations go on to ban window displays visible to
the outside from having sexually explicit materials, products, displays or
images. Hours of operation must be between 10 a.m. and midnight and any signs
must meet the regulations in chapter 66 of the zoning code, as well as other
requirements that the signs not display sexually explicit messages or images.

Following the explanation of the proposed amendments,
local resident John McDermott took to the mic, speaking on behalf of the St.
Luke’s Catholic Church, St. Andrews Catholic Center, St. John Neumann Catholic
Church, the Knights of Columbus and the Montego Bay Civic Association board of

“It is our wish that you will be able to adopt a code
amendment that will make things better for us,” he said. “The shop that we have
in north Ocean City just materialized so fast, they had their doors open for
business before we knew what was going on.”

Before voting on the amendments, commission member Lauren
Taylor said it is obvious the town has a reputation to look after.

“It’s clear that Ocean City has a very important
residential community that we need to protect,” she said. “Tourism is our
business and we have this image of a tourism machine that we’ve been carefully
building and nurturing and advertising and [sexually oriented businesses] are a
detriment to our business community we have established.”

then made a motion to approve the amendments and fellow commission member John
Staley seconded it. After unanimously approving the amendments, the Planning
and Zoning Commission now forwards them to the Mayor and City Council.