Springfield Republican: “Springfield accuses Amazing.net adult video store customers of ‘lewd and lascivious behavior'”

The Springfield Republican reports on April 2:

The city [of Springfield], claiming knowledge of “lewd and lascivious behavior” in an adult video store on Bridge Street, recently ordered the business to remove the doors of all 13 video booths used by its customers, intending to stop the behavior.

The door-removal requirement was among conditions of the 2010 entertainment license issued to the business, Amazing.net, at 486 Bridge St., in a decision by Mayor Domenic J. Sarno, dated March 12…

The city has an ongoing legal battle with Capital Video Corp., of Rhode Island, the corporate owner of the business, defending the city’s decision in 2008 to deny its entertainment license for the video booths.

Superior Court Judge Cornelius J. Moriarty overruled the city’s decision in August of 2008, ruling in part that there was no basis to conclude that the booths “presented a health hazard or adversely affected the public interest in any way.”

The city has appealed, and has a hearing before the Massachusetts Appeals Court on Wednesday to further argue the case. The hearing is being conducted locally at Western New England College…

Read the full story 

See also: 

Gazette: “Zoning laws set; But porn store’s plans unchanged” (11/3/06)
[Capital Video general counsel] Lesley Rich asserts, “Capital enjoys an excellent relationship with its host communities, and has not encountered any of the problems or detrimental effects that have been put forth.”

I doubt the people of Kittery, Maine would agree with Mr. Rich’s opinion. Let’s revisit the minutes of a meeting of the Kittery Town Council, February 27, 2006 (emphasis added):

a. (020206-1) THE KITTERY TOWN COUNCIL MOVES TO HOLD A PUBLIC HEARING ON AND HEREBY ORDAINS CHAPTER 5.40, AN ORDINANCE REQUIRING LICENSES FOR VIEWING BOOTHS OF ADULT ENTERTAINMENT ESTABLISHMENTS. …Police Chief Strong came forward and said everyone was aware that this establishment [Capital Video’s porn shop] had been a bone of contention for a long time. Although they had other regulations toward that establishment, it had come to his attention that there were either illegal activities going on or activities that were detrimental to the health and welfare of patrons and the general public. They started to pick up intelligence and interviewed a former employee, who had been in a managerial role for the company. During that interview, they were informed about certain activities and that basically it was a meeting place for homosexual males to meet people and engage in sex inside the booths and bathrooms, which the informant indicated he had personally witnessed. The Department continued to monitor the establishment and to research websites. The Chief made a sketch on the board for Council to see the establishment’s basic layout; the doors to “peek” booths were lockable from the inside.

Chief Strong said Fernald Road residents had complained about finding offensive trash on the road and the Department did their own surveillance, finding such items as empty pill bottles, lubricants, leather straps, movies, and used condoms within 100 yards of the rear of the establishment on Fernald Road.The Chief said they made the decision to send people in under cover and on two occasions, he sent two plain clothes detectives into Amazing.Net, arming them with special glasses and a portable ultraviolet light, which when shined on an area would illuminate body fluids. On January 30, two detectives went inside dressed in plain clothes and equipped with the ultraviolet light, as well as collection material. They entered booths, closed the doors, turned on the ultraviolet light and observed what appeared to be tremendous amounts of body fluids on all three walls and on the floor. The next night, the detectives followed the same procedure. Samples were sent to the Main Street Lab and on February 13, 2006, he received the results confirming that all swabbings taken in the four booths contained semen. The Chief said their informant told them that on numerous occasions he had tried to clean but had not been given any information on how to wash the areas properly. Police Chief Strong said he believed the collection of material they made, along with the lab results, showed beyond a reasonable doubt that there were body fluids being exchanged or deposited that other people were exposed to…

Despite the complaints of residents and Chief Strong’s evidence about the condition and activities surrounding Capital Video’s store in Kittery, Capital Video still made vigorous efforts to fight legislation to improve the health and safety of their porn viewing booths. The Portsmouth Herald reported in June:

…Kittery recently passed an ordinance that requires the owners of Amazing.net, located on Route 236, to remove the doors from the viewing booths. Once again, the ordinance was based on public health concerns because–just as had happened in Portsmouth–officials found semen on the walls and seats of the booths.

And, once again, the owner of the adult store–in this case, Capital Video Corp.–is attempting to fight the ordinance in court. On Wednesday, a York County Superior Court judge rejected the owner’s call for a temporary restraining order that would have freed the shop from having to comply with the new ordinance.

“There is no fundamental liberty interest to view sexually explicit materials in a closed viewing booth at a business,” Superior Court Judge Paul Fritzsche ruled.

…While Fritzsche’s ruling should have settled the issue, the main legal action brought by Capital Video claiming the town violated the company’s constitutional right to privacy remains active.

Far from being responsive to communities, Capital Video has a record of resisting even the most reasonable requests of citizens and public officials. Mr. Rich’s words may be soothing. Capital Video’s actions are not.

Gazette: “Porn store’s viewing booths raise stink in Springfield” (6/19/07)
During the hearing, Nota himself said one of the holes in the Springfield viewing booths had been made with a drill, something that we presume would make a lot of noise. More generally, Internet comments from patrons suggest that Capital Video’s stores in SpringfieldKittery, Maine and elsewhere can be popular places for people to meet up for sex, at least when the store management chooses to be lax. And being lax is profitable. As one patron puts it, “theres more money going in the machines with lights off and holes in the walls…”

Viewing Booths and HIV: An Open Letter to Thomas Lesser of Northampton, Attorney for Capital Video (7/1/07)
Dear Mr. Lesser:

We understand you have engaged with Capital Video to defend the license for their viewing booths in Springfield. We would like to call your attention to the role establishments like these play in the transmission of HIV. During 2003-2005, the most recent data available, Springfield had nearly the highest rate of HIV infection diagnosis in our state, second only to much-smaller Provincetown. The fourth-highest infection rate is found in Holyoke. Male-to-male sex is the leading cause of HIV infection in Massachusetts, and increasingly so in recent years.

As you may be aware, Capital Video’s stores in Springfield, Kittery and Meriden have featured prominently on the ‘cruising’ website, Squirt.org. Comments on the Internet may be hearsay in the eyes of the law. Nevertheless, they describe the reality that these stores cater to a group of people who are cavalier in the extreme about their personal health and the health of their sexual partners. Capital Video sells media that encourages promiscuity and heedlessness, and realizes increased profits when it turns a blind eye to patrons’ activity on its premises. Despite Capital Video’s protestations that it discourages sexual activity in its stores, in an era when pornographic content of all kinds can be accessed directly in the home, the unique selling point of viewing booths is to facilitate physical sexual contact between two or more people…

Lesser Newman: Capital Video Has Seen the Light and Will Make its Springfielf Viewing Booths Safe (7/28/07)
We do not assert that it is impossible for a viewing booth operation to be safe. However, as Gabriel Rotello writes, it is extremely difficult and failure is the norm.

“…Based on the evidence, I have no doubt that if owners of commercial sex establishments had to file ‘epidemiological impact statements’ proving that they would not harm gay sexual ecology before they could get or renew their licenses, very few would be allowed to operate.” (p.199)

Over its long history, Capital Video has demonstrated no consistent ability to make its viewing booth stores safe from a health perspective. It is unreasonably risky for Springfield to assume that Capital Video will suddenly succeed where it has failed so often before.

We are not surprised that recent comments on the Internet say that Capital Video is presently “serious” about monitoring customer activities in Springfield. It is not uncommon for Capital Video stores to go through cycles of strictness and laxity, depending on the level of scrutiny local officials are giving it at any one time. Glory holes routinely open, close, then open again. We are not reassured by promises of stepped-up monitoring. The inclination of Capital Video clerks to ‘look the other way’ is legendary. See, for example, these comments from Squirt.org members about Capital Video stores:

Troy, NY
8/4/06: They have had troubles keeping clerks, there always advertising for help. If you go when the young chick is on with the stud in her lip she doesnt give a shit of who’s in what booth or how many just drop money and be cool…

North Kingstown, RI
3/22/07: Stopped by NK..of course Bandana Johnny was there, truly with a stink on…its disgusting. I wonder if its a heath issue with him being there. Would Amazing be liable? Afterall, they do let him loiter all day knowing his dirtiness…

Meriden, CT
4/18/07: Went there today for the first time. There was at least 10 guys there and i was suck in a matter of minutes. Definately a good place to go for fun. the two young guys working didnt pay any attention and it is very easy to find someone…

Dallas, TX
6/18/07: I haven’t been here durning lunch in awhile, but in the mornings could be fun. No staff bothering you knocking on the door. anyone ever interested in meeting let me know?

Hampden Superior Court Lets Capital Video Reopen Viewing Booths in Springfield; A Proposed Solution (9/30/08)
How much does Capital Video care about the health of its customers? A search of the term barebacking on its Amazing.net/Goflix.com website today brings up the following and more:

Bisexual Barebacking #6
Barebacking Tag Team
Unsafe Sex with Transsexuals Barebacking #2
Raw Bois #3 – A Twink Barebacking Adventure
Adventures in Barebacking

The title below was prominently on display at an Amazing.net store in Massachusetts on September 28. The character at the bottom of the box cover says, “Go Forth And Be Unsafe My Son!”

A Proposed Solution: Amortization

Capital Video’s Springfield store is not actually in compliance with Springfield’s current zoning regarding adult entertainment. It’s too close to residences, as you can see by using Springfield’s Geographic Information System (Amazing.net is located at 486B Bridge Street). Current zoning specifies:

Section F-1403. Permitted Districts: Adult oriented uses are permitted with a special permit from the City Council in Business A, Business B, and Business C and no other districts, subject to the following regulations:

  1. No lot occupied, or to be occupied, by an adult oriented use shall be located within a seven hundred (700) foot radius from a residential zoning district or a building containing residences.
  2. No lot occupied, or to be occupied, by an adult oriented use shall be within a seven hundred (700) foot radius from the grounds of a school, place of worship, public library or public park.
  3. No lot occupied, or to be occupied, by an adult oriented use shall be located within a seven hundred (700) foot radius of any other adult oriented use as defined.

Capital Video is allowed to remain where it is because it’s “grandfathered”. The store preceded this ordinance. However, that doesn’t have to be the end of the story. Massachusetts municipalities can enact an “amortization clause”, meaning that all non-conforming adult uses have to come into compliance within a fixed period of time.