Berlin Wants Sex Shop Law

BERLIN – Sex shops will not be permitted in Berlin for the next nine months while town staff and elected officials create an ordinance to govern placement of the controversial adult oriented businesses.

According to Mayor Gee Williams, the measure was not prompted by any attempt to establish such a business in town, but came from work on cleaning up the town code.

The Berlin Mayor and Council established a moratorium on adult oriented businesses by resolution at the Monday night town council meeting. The subject was not originally on the agenda.

Berlin is belatedly following the lead of Ocean City and Worcester County, both of which established adult oriented business laws, restricting location and other features of the business, in 2007.

“If we don’t impose a moratorium we’re basically saying, come do business here,” said Williams at Monday night’s meeting.

Williams said he was not sure why an ordinance restricting the location of adult oriented businesses had not been pursued previously.

Under First Amendment law, the town cannot ban sex shops and adult oriented businesses altogether, but must set aside a reasonable area for the businesses. This is accomplished through the zoning code.

Common practice pushes such businesses into industrial areas using restrictive ordinances. Adult oriented businesses are typically required to observe significant setbacks from schools, churches, and residences.

“There are definitely areas that would meet the traditional standards,” Williams said.

Berlin is unlikely to attract such operations, some felt.

“I don’t think it would happen but you never know,” said Councilwoman Lisa Hall.

“If anyone has the incredibly ludicrous business sense to think this is a great place for this kind of business, they can come here and lose all the business they want,” said Williams.

Without any provisions in the zoning code, an adult oriented business could be set-up anywhere in town.

“If you have nothing there, there’s nothing you can do about it,” said Williams. “If it’s not on the books, let’s get something squared away…this way it would be properly managed.”

“It’s good they’re looking at this ahead of time,” Hall said.