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Christopher Bjorke, Forum Communications Co., Published April 02 2012

Grand Forks City Council delays action on sex shop ordinance

GRAND FORKS - Grand Forks City Council members delayed a decision Monday on a proposed licensing ordinance for sexually oriented businesses following testimony in favor and against a controversial new shop.

“The situation does call for more deliberation before we make a decision,” said member Curt Kreun, before the council voted to move the ordinance to a committee hearing, prolonging a final decision.

The ordinance would require several kinds of sexually oriented businesses to receive a license from the city. The council had planned to vote Monday whether to approve the measure.

“This item has been a city agenda item for about three weeks,” said member Eliot Glassheim, who wanted a decision Monday. “I think we need to act on it sooner rather than later because we’re all in a state of uncertainty.”

He and council member Terry Bjerke voted against moving the issue to a committee.

“The longer it drags on, the worse it is for the business and the property owner and the neighborhood,” Glassheim said after the meeting.

Polarizing store

At the center of the issue is Fantasy’s, a Fargo store selling lingerie along with sexual devices and other products that would be in an adults-only section of the business. Opponents of its plan to open a Grand Forks store at 418 N. Washington St. say it is too close to Winship Elementary School, one block to the west.

The council made its decision after hearing several people testify for and against the store, including owners Jim and Kim Patterson and their attorney, Jonathan Garaas.

Garaas argued that the city had no standing to enact its ordinance since state it is not allowed to create laws stricter than state law, which only restricts the number of adult businesses allowed in one location.

Garaas also said city officials discriminated against the business by delaying a building permit.

“You can’t change the rules after people have already made investments,” he said, adding that the Pattersons have invested at least $100,000 in the business. “They don’t want problems. They want to be responsible members of your community.”

City Administrator Rick Duquette said it made no sense to give a permit to Fantasy’s while the City Council was considering an ordinance that could keep it from opening at its location.

Perceived risk

Grand Forks residents on both sides of the issue spoke at the council meeting.

Caroline Gallegos said she brought a petition door to door in the neighborhood over the weekend and found overwhelming opposition to the business.

“I think there were three for the store and a couple hundred who were against it,” she said.

Gallegos and others said the combination of a sexually oriented business and a school would pose the risk of bringing sexual predators to a location at an intersection used daily by elementary students.

“I don’t think thinking things are going to be safe is enough,” she said.

Supporters of the store said it was being treated unfairly.

“We’re in a point in time where’s it’s better to be open about things than try to hide them,” said Darryl Danielson, who created a petition in favor of Fantasy’s.

Owner Jim Patterson said the store was being misrepresented as something more overtly sexual than it is.

“We’re not going to expose children to anything we don’t think they should be seeing,” he said.

Council President Hal Gershman said the council was not opposed to their business, just their location.

“If you’d been a couple of blocks away, I don’t think we’d be here today,” he said.

Christopher Bjorke writes for the Grand Forks Herald.