Potential Sex Store Sites Identified

OCEAN CITY- Resort planners on Tuesday got a first look at
maps showing potential sites throughout Ocean City for adult book stores and
shops selling sexually-related content, and while the sites identified added up
to just about one percent of the total area of the town, there were a few
surprise locations identified under the proposed zoning changes.

Following the surprise opening of an adult-themed book
store on 137th Street this winter, resort officials have embarked on
a two-prong course to prevent, or at least curtail, the appearance of similar
stores in the future. While the town is required by law to provide at least
some potential areas for the businesses, steps can, and are, being taken to
curtail their proliferation in the resort.

One prong of the two-prong approach is to place stringent
licensing requirements on applicants for adult-themed stores, making it
difficult, but not impossible, to gain town approval for a business license.
The other prong is to curtail the spread of future adult-themed stores by
zoning them into areas far removed from residents, churches, beaches, parks and
anywhere children congregate, which, of course, is a large percentage of the
resort town.

The town’s Planning Commission is working on a zoning
ordinance that will require proposed adult-theme stores to be at least 600 feet
from other businesses and attractions that cater to children and families, and
150 feet from any residence. The code change would also require new adult
stores to be at least 600 feet from any other adult-themed store to prevent
them from clustering in one area.

In order to get a better understanding of just where new
adult stores could be located under the stringent zoning code changes, town
staffers have prepared maps to identify specific locations throughout the
resort that would meet the new standards under current conditions. The planning
commission got a first look at those maps this week, and while the areas
identified make up just one percent of the town’s total buildable area, there
were a few surprise potential locations identified on them.

Director of Planning and Community Development Jesse
Houston told the planners just 223 acres of the town’s total area, or about .99
percent, would be eligible for adult-themed stores if the zoning changes were
passed as written. Houston said the roughly one-percent area should satisfy any
laws requiring at least some areas be available for the businesses.

“I saw some areas where one-percent was accepted,” he
said. “We might be given a little more leeway because we’re a resort town.”

Because of the density of existing development and the
Boardwalk, beach, and other attractions, no adult stores could be opened
anywhere in the downtown area under the proposed changes. The farthest south
site available would be a portion of the parking lot owned by Phillips at 21st
Street along the west side of Philadelphia Ave.

Going from south to north, the next available site would
be a portion of the existing 45th Street Village, which gave some
members of the planning commission heartburn. The site is currently undergoing
a major redevelopment, but as it stands right now, a portion of the existing
shopping center would meet the new zoning standards.

“So what you’re telling me is that the store on the corner
of 45th Street Village could be a sex shop, right next to the
highway?” said planning commission member Lauren Taylor. “It looks like we have
plenty of other areas. Couldn’t we just make this one go away?”

Houston confirmed Taylor was correct, but said the
possibility was unlikely because of the ongoing redevelopment of the site.
Houston said the maps were prepared based on what is on the ground now and not
what might be planned there in the future.

“We’re protecting them from facilities that exist at the
time of adoption,” he said. “This wouldn’t prevent somebody from coming later
and building residential there.”

Planning chairman Dr. Geoffrey Robbins questioned whether
the proposed zoning changes represented a chicken or egg problem. Robbins said
the zoning changes could force the planning commission to let potential buyers
and developers know what could be allowed next to their property.

“Should we have these maps in front of us so we can say
‘do you realize what could be potentially built in your neighborhood’,” he

Going north from the 45th Street Village site,
the next location available is a portion of the parking lot in front of
Seacrets, owned by Ocean Pines and the Adkins Company. Other potential sites
include the Candy Kitchen complex at 55th Street, all of Fager’s
Island, the Bayside Skillet, the shopping center between 80th and 81st
Street that includes fixtures such as La Hacienda and South Moon Under.

Further north, the area around 83rd Street
including Fresco’s, Royal Farm, Comcast Cable and Shore Distributing would be
available, as would the shopping center between 92nd and 94th
Street, which includes Lombardi’s, Kirby’s Pub, Liquid Assets and others. A big
wedge of the parking lot at the old Ocean Plaza Mall would be available, as
would a section of the Gold Coast Mall parking lot.

Essentially, the entire Ocean City Square shopping center
would be eligible, as would a section of the parking lot at Hooter’s, but not
the building itself. Finally, the entire shopping center between 131st
and 132nd Street would meet the new standards.

While the list appears extensive, it represents just
around one percent of the town’s entire area. In many cases, it appears
existing stores and businesses are included in the maps, but the existing
building themselves are not eligible because of the distance requirements. In
other words, many of the identified sites would have to be completely
redeveloped to meet the new standards.

Several on the planning commission whether the one-percent
would be sufficient to meet the legal requirements. Houston said he was certain
they would, based on reviewing similar ordinances in other areas, but cautioned
the areas could not likely be pinched much further.

“One percent is probably as low as we can go,” he said.
“We can probably justify such a low percentage because we have such scattered
family-oriented businesses. Guy [Ocean City Sollicitor Guy Ayres] hasn’t seen
this yet. Hopefully, he’ll be okay with it.”

Planning Commissioner Peck Miller said the intent of the
proposed zoning changes was to limit the number of locations available for the
stores. “The law dictates we provide space for them,” he said. “We’re just
looking to provide the minimum amount.”

Robbins said it was imperative the town get it right or
else suffer the alternative. “I don’t think we want to courts to come in and
draw the lines on the map,” he said. “I think we need to take care of this with
careful planning.”