Council will weigh public input for and against porn zone

Published on Thu, Aug 2, 2001 by Meg Olson

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Council will weigh public input for and against porn zone

By Meg Olson

It will be up to city council to decide if action or inaction is the best way to deal with smut in the city.

While the city now has an ordinance regulating adult entertainment businesses, adopted in September 1998, Blaine’s lone sex shop on Peace Portal is still a thorn in the community’s side.

“We’ve been hearing the community say get rid of it,” said community development director Terry Galvin. “This city is right on the edge of a growth spurt. Cities have windows of opportunity and this is it. We’ve got a problem in that the adult entertainment business acts as a kind of anti-gravity force.”

At a July 25 public forum on options to get the store out of downtown, Galvin presented a controversial option to set aside an area for adult entertainment businesses and give the store six months to move. “Essentially it’s a phase out ordinance,” he explained. “It gives the bookstore six months to get out of town, but there’s a catch.”

The catch is that the city is legally bound to provide an alternative location for legal sex businesses, and no one wants them in their own backyard. “I want it gone but I don’t want it by me, and I don’t want it downtown,” said Pam Christianson.

“The Supreme Court allows you to regulate them but only in time, place and manner – you can’t have a strict prohibition,” said city attorney Jon Sitkin.

Two prospective sites were put forward by city staff at the meeting: a triangle of land sandwiched between Pipeline Road, Yew Avenue and a line running south from Totally Chocolate, and a strip of land between the freeway and Peace Portal Drive at the southern edge of the city. Property owners from both sites were present at the meeting and none supported having their land, now designated a manufacturing zone, turned into the city’s porn district.

“From a property owners point of view it has an impact on the value of what you purchased,” said Tony Pickering, who recently bought a seven-acre parcel in the southern proposed zone. “It’s a dollars and cents thing. Maybe we should go into it whole hog and start looking for people to come in with massage parlors etcetera.” Totally Chocolate owner Jeff Robinson was concerned for the safety of his staff. “I have women working two shifts and closing the building in the middle of the night,” he said.

Christianson acknowledged she didn’t want the zone across from her True Value hardware store, but said there were other drawbacks to the southern site “As we see growth coming to Blaine I’d like that not to be one of our entrances,” Christianson said. Other audience members were also concerned with the possibility of flashing neon XXX signs along the freeway. Galvin explained that the proposed ordinance would specify that signs could not be visible from the freeway or Odell Road and other limitations could be added. “We want to regulatorily diminish it as much as we can,” he said.

With only one adult business in town, some audience members wondered whether getting it off the main street warranted creating more regulations and potentially opening the city up to further legal action. “I would hope city council gives serious thought to letting gravity take care of this one and pull it underground rather than going to the supreme court,” said Robinson. “We’ve seen a lot of the garbage in Blaine go it’s own way,” said Christianson, recalling an era when Peace Portal Drive was lined with sex shops and blue movies. “I’d like to think, if we leave it alone to die, it’ll just die.”

Other audience members agreed the business appeared to be dwindling and would eventually go away without any interference from the city, but some weren’t so sure. “Maybe they’re not making their money selling dirty books,” said city manager Gary Tomsic. “Maybe they’re making their money somewhere else. “My opinion is that there’s a possibility of money laundering and organized crime,” said Jim Zell. “If that’s the case it’ll never die out. The thing is it’s here and people have been trying to get rid of it for twenty years. We’ve got to do something.”

Wendy Robinson added that the issue was bigger than one store. “No matter which way that business goes, other adult entertainment can come in unless we deal with the zoning,” she said. Current city regulations allow adult businesses in the central business district as long as they are 200 feet from schools, residences, churches and other adult businesses.

Robert Carruthers, whose parents own property in the proposed zone near Yew Avenue, suggested putting the screws to the existing business before worrying about potential future ones. “Everybody wants them gone, we just don’t know what the price-tag is,” he said. “I don’t think it’s economically viable for an adult business to move to Blaine. Now, what can be done at a regulatory level at the existing site?” he asked. One of his first suggestions was that the city pursues collection of a $30,000 judgement won against the bookstore. Sitkin said, as a new city attorney, it would be one of his first priorities.

“It seems to me in the long run it may be safer leaving it downtown but making it as restrictive as possible,” said Mary Rankin.

Another option, proposed by council member Bonnie Onyon, was for citizens to get together and buy the building.

“This is not a clear-cut thing,” Tomsic said at the close of the meeting. “Perhaps we need to step back and evaluate a couple of options.”

In preparation for a council of the whole meeting on the proposal scheduled for August 6, Galvin is drafting a spectrum of options for council to consider. “One of the most important things we got out of the town meeting was that there may be some alternative ways to address the problems surrounding the existing location,” he said. “We could deal with that business by taking a look at fines and other legal means short of spending a lot of time and money on an additional regulation that could be messy.”

To address the issue of where the sex businesses should go in the long-term, should they decide to move to town, Galvin will propose cutting back the two proposed zones to limit exposure and identifying both as an adult entertainment overlay. “If we do this we need to be on solid legal ground or the cure will be worse than the cold,” he said. “There may be some options to look at before we commit.”

After the August 6 meeting, the ordinance will come before city council at their August 13 regular meeting for approval. .

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