Friday, May 11- County Looks To Protect Adult Shop Moratorium

SNOW HILL – The Worcester County Commissioners will consider fall back legislation to handle adult themed businesses at their next meeting on May 15.

The commissioners approved a moratorium on adult businesses through the end of this year earlier this month to gain time in which to write permanent legislation.

The bill to be considered May 15 would provide some control should the moratorium be challenged and struck down and is not intended to be the final legislation on the matter.

“This is a ‘cover the bases’ type bill,” said Ed Tudor, director of Development, Review, and Permitting.

The interim legislation also shows a good faith effort to create binding regulations, Tudor said. Adult businesses cannot be banned, only controlled.

The regulations as drafted would cover adult book and video stores, adult movie theaters and adult live entertainment establishments.

The draft bill, which would restrict adult businesses to M-2 industrial zoning, includes minimum distances between adult businesses and pre-existing schools, day cares, religious buildings, libraries and public parks and recreation spaces. 

The bill also includes limits on how close an adult business may be to the border of the industrial zone. Sexual images, performances, or nudity must not be visible from outside the building, under the draft law.

If passed, the emergency bill would take effect immediately.

“It’s a difficult thing to make sure you get right,” said Tudor. “We have very little time to try to get something together on this.”

The Worcester County Planning Commission was consulted on the bill, which uses zoning regulations to govern where adult businesses may locate, but commission members had few comments.

Commission Chair Carolyn Cummins questioned why the bill would keep adult-themed businesses separated from other adult businesses by 1,000 feet.

“You’re spreading these out and you’re impacting more area instead of less area,” Cummins said. “When we spread it out, the more neighbors you’re impacting.”

Phyllis Wimbrow, deputy director of Development, Review, and Permitting, said the separation requirement should control the numbers of sexually oriented businesses.

Tudor remarked that restricting adult businesses to industrial zones would keep the numbers low.

“We have very little M-2 [industrial zoning],” Tudor said.

The only two M-2 areas in Worcester County are in Pocomoke City, south of Route 113, and in Showell.

“You wanted more mixed uses in Showell,” Tudor joked.

The discussion was peppered with humor, with Cummins beginning the conversation with the remark, “Mr. Tudor’s promised to dance for us.”

Referring to the legislation, Tudor said, “What you have today may seem a little screwy.”

County staff needs to go on a field trip to research this bill, said Sandy Coyman, director of Comprehensive Planning.

Staff welcomed the idea of inspections for adult businesses, said Tudor. “We’ve had a lot of volunteers,” he said.

The commissioners got the moratorium and legislation under way at the end of April, after reports that an adult themed business was trying to lease space on Route 50 in West Ocean City. The property owners nixed that attempt, but not all property owners will be so principled, locals fear.

Long-term legislation will be introduced at some undetermined point in the future. The county plans to consult with legal experts to write a legally up to date and enforceable set of regulations.

County attorney Ed Hammond has been pressing the commissioners to look at such a bill for years. Before the current situation, with a new adult video store in Ocean City and the specter of an adult store on the major commercial corridor in West Ocean City, Hammond had last suggested a bill to the commissioners in late September 2006.

“We had so much on our plates at the time,” said Commissioner Judy Boggs. “We had lots of critical issues to discuss. We thought it could be something that could be put on the back burner.”

With the commissioners up for re-election and the guarantee of at least one newcomer, the commissioners also felt that the matter should be left for the next set of elected officials, according to Boggs.

“It caught up with us, didn’t it?” she said. “It’s on the fast track now. We want to get it done.”

Permanent legislation should be in place before the end of the year, she felt, well before the moratorium ends.

“We want to be sure and do it right the first time. We don’t want to hurry something through,” Boggs said.