County OKs Bills Limiting Adult Businesses

SNOW HILL – The art versus pornography argument came up again when the County Commissioners discussed legislation restricting adult oriented businesses, but that did not deter the elected officials from passing the laws unanimously.

The bills, which restrict adult oriented businesses to heavy industrial zoning and govern how the businesses are conducted inside buildings, replace emergency legislation passed in early summer.

Adult businesses will be allowed in a mile long stretch in Bishop, around the Perdue chicken plant in Showell, and at the closed Tyson chicken plant property just outside Berlin.

The moratorium on sexually oriented businesses passed earlier this year will be up at the end of 2007, but the county is now covered by laws that will hold up in court, according to officials.

The county made few changes in the laws as delivered by specialist legal consultants, adding a provision requiring a 600-foot setback from arterial highways.

Commissioner Judy Boggs wondered whether the setback should be deeper, citing Garden Grove, Calif., which has a 1,000-foot setback for adult businesses.

Ed Tudor, director of development review and permitting, said that the setback came from the consultant attorneys and that it is constitutionally defensible.

The provision makes sense because a lot of industrial zoning sits along arterial highways, he said.

Commissioner Virgil Shockley raised the art versus pornography question, asking if an art gallery with nude paintings would be counted as adult entertainment.

“We don’t want to catch people we don’t want to catch,” Shockley said.

The county should not rely on people interpreting the law in the future to what the commissioners meant.

“If it’s written, I believe it,” said Shockley.

Unlike art, the purpose of pornography is sexual stimulation, Tudor said.

“Naked means you don’t have any clothes on, and nekkid means you don’t have any clothes on and you’re doing something you’re not supposed to,” county attorney Ed Hammond said.

The county is going to be enforcing the law, and the intent should not be lost, according to Hammond.

“My concern is the definition of adult oriented. It seemed pretty broad,” said artist Andrew Azbell of Berlin during the public hearing on the legislation. “I’d rather have some stricter parameters on that.”

Azbell added, “The point of art is not to restrict creative abilities.”

Art galleries could he affected, Azbell felt.

“I worry about the rest of the county and how this is going to infringe on the constitutional right of freedom of expression,” he said.

“You’re treading on some fine lines here,” Tudor said. “These are discussions people have had for 200 years.”

The law restricts businesses from making more than 20 percent of their revenue from adult oriented material.

“No business is going to gain more than 20 percent of its income from nudes,” said Ann Coates, a gallery owner from Snow Hill and chair of the town’s arts and entertainment district.

The new sexually oriented business laws will not infringe on the arts and entertainment districts in Berlin and Snow Hill.

“Our laws don’t apply in the city limits except in certain instances and this isn’t one of them,” Hammond said.

The laws only govern where sexually oriented businesses go and how they operate in the county.

“If you want to have one of these places in Worcester County, there’s a place for you,” Hammond said.