Planners Approve Proposed Adult Business Regulations

SNOW HILL – The adult oriented business law sought by the County Commissioners received a favorable recommendation from the Worcester County Planning Commission last week and will probably go before the commissioners on Tuesday.

The three north county sites that could become host to adult oriented businesses are all on heavy industrial land, in a bid to keep those businesses isolated from daily commerce.

Businesses like adult video stores, strip clubs and sex toy shops would be allowed under the laws proposed in Bishop, south along Route 113 to the railroad tracks; in the area of the defunct Showell Perdue poultry plant; and at the shut down Berlin Tyson chicken plant. Sexually oriented businesses must be set 600 feet back from arterial highways, like Routes 113 and 50, and each business must be separated from other adult businesses by 1,000 feet.

“So this is what’s going to replace the chicken business,” Planning Commission Chair Carolyn Cummins joked. She continued in a more serious vein, “I still have a concern we’re spreading them out too much if we get them. It would be more of an impact on the neighborhood than if they were allowed closer together.”

Cummins also questioned whether the three sites allowed adult business operators a reasonable amount of real estate to choose from.

“You have a pretty good stretch there,” said Ed Tudor, director of Development Review and Permitting. The Bishop area, down to the railroad tracks, is a mile long, he said.

Not all of those parcels could be used for a sexually oriented business, Tudor said. Some parcels are not deep enough to allow for the 600-foot setback.

The county hired a specialist law firm to create the laws.

“We didn’t take any liberties with this language at all,” Tudor said.

“Do we absolutely have to have this in the code?” Planning Commission member Jeannie Lynch asked.

“Yes. Otherwise, you get it where you don’t want it,” county attorney Ed Hammond said.

There are no current applicants for that type of business in Worcester County, although there were two failed attempts to bring in strip clubs in the past.

The new laws were put in motion last spring after an adult video store set up shop in northern Ocean City.

“If you pass this bill, it really does permit those places,” Hammond said.

The county can legally restrict where sexually oriented businesses locate, but must designate a reasonable amount of space for them to do so to meet First Amendment free speech laws.

“You could have some workers in the M-2 zone who are offended by this and that’s tough,” Hammond said.

The heavy industry, or M-2 zoning, will keep adult businesses away from well-traveled business districts. The heavy industry zone is the most suitable place for those businesses, Hammond said.

“We make the laws. This creates a reasonable accommodation for the activity,” Hammond said. “This is a place they can exercise that free speech.”

Lynch questioned whether the laws proposed would prohibit nude sculpture, like Michaelangelo’s David.

“Does it allow nude figure sculpture? Can we make a distinction between sculpture for art’s sake or for titillation?” Lynch asked.

An art gallery selling only nude images might be prohibited, Tudor said, but not if the nude images comprised less than 20 percent of the store’s stock.

“This is dealing with these establishments. A statue in a park does not make an adult business establishment,” Tudor said.