Officials in Fairfax County, Virginia Regret Adult Zoning Loophole

Leave a hole in your zoning ordinance and you might regret it later. The Washington Post reports from Fairfax County:

[T]o some of its neighbors and many county officials, MVC Latenight is an offensive eyesore in a town struggling to revitalize its historic center. The adults-only business that sells a variety of videos and sex paraphernalia drove right through the middle of a loophole that county attorneys warned about almost a decade ago.

Fairfax County has zoning regulations that specify where adult bookstores and theaters may be situated. But adult video stores are classified no differently from any other commercial enterprise. In the eyes of county zoning law, MVC Latenight is the same as, say, Blockbuster.

Only now, five months after MVC moved into the vacant building not far from four day-care centers and four churches, are county officials seeking to close the loophole. “We do not want such establishments near houses of worship, schools, day-care centers and neighborhoods,” said Gerald E. Connolly (D), chairman of the Board of Supervisors. “There are constitutional issues we obviously have to respect. But there may be zoning mechanisms we can deploy that would limit the presence of such establishments to certain industrial districts…”

[M]any jurisdictions have had success with laws requiring separation distances between sexually oriented businesses and schools, churches or residences. Most mandate a distance of 500 to 1,500 feet, said Eric Kelly, co-author of the American Planning Association guide, “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Regulating Sex Businesses”. Field studies show people are most offended by sexually oriented businesses when they encounter them accidentally while doing other activities, such as going to church, walking children to school or heading to a bus stop.

“In these situations, they bother people a lot,” said Kelly. “But you could locate them on a busy road with no sidewalks and it probably would not bother people much at all.” Kelly advises governments to write rules prohibiting adult businesses from locating near such places as public parks, YMCAs and community centers, churches and schools…

Some residents are unhappy about the store in their midst.

“A number of people have made observations of a sadness that this sort of thing is in that location,” said the Rev. Howard Kempsell, rector at nearby St. John’s Episcopal Church. “Especially those who have children in the neighboring preschools…”

Dennis Hogge, who owns several commercial buildings within 100 yards of the MVC store, worries about the impact of MVC on a nearby building he recently renovated where a coffee shop has opened.

“It cost us a small fortune to do a complete restoration on an old historic building, and along comes a porn shop,” said Hogge with disgust in his voice. “One use like this can lead to others and pull the area down. We want to make this a place safe to bring families and children, not one stigmatized with this type of use.”

Hogge criticized county officials for being fearful of lawsuits and too timid to rail against pornography.

“Where is the moral outrage among our officials?” he said. “Where are the public statements about the offensiveness of this as a vice? The entire debate seems to be framed as a legal issue. It offends me there is no clarity about the moral outrage…”

Supervisor Michael R. Frey (R-Sully), who brought up MVC at a recent board meeting, said that in retrospect the supervisors should have done something in 1996, when county attorneys recommended adding adult videos to a 1978 ordinance regulating the location of adult bookstores and theaters, a response to MVC’s store in Springfield. Board members feared that would only attract the businesses.

“At the time, people didn’t want to hear about regulation, they wanted to hear prohibition,” he said.

Now, Frey has proposed allowing adult businesses in some commercial areas and imposing a separation distance.
From The Washington Post, “The X-Rated Shop on the Corner: MVC Latenight DVD Provokes a Push To Revise the County’s Zoning Rules”, 2/17/05

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