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Christopher Bjorke, Grand Forks Herald , Published April 10 2012

Grand Forks adult business ordinance moves forward

GRAND FORKS - An ordinance to tighten regulations on sexually oriented businesses moved a step closer to passage at a City Council committee meeting Monday.

The Finance and Development Committee recommended the full council adopt an ordinance that would create a license for adult businesses and prohibit them from locating near schools, parks and places of worship.

The members spent about two hours discussing the ordinance and hearing testimony from residents and the owners of Fantasy’s, a Fargo store with plans to open at 418 N. Washington St., near Winship Elementary School.

Fantasy’s primarily sells lingerie and other clothing items, but it also sells adult DVDs and sexual devices in a part of its store that bars minors. Opponents of the store say sexually oriented businesses would threaten children who pass by the store on their way to school.

Committee members said they struggled with the issue and spoke sympathetically toward the owners’ desire to move ahead with their business plans, but said it was proper to restrict where sexually oriented business can locate.

“I’m in the liquor business. I have liquor stores. I’m licensed. I understand the rules. I don’t feel my rights are being imposed upon,” said Council President Hal Gershman, owner of Happy Harry’s Bottle Shops. “I’m not going to try to put a liquor store near a school.”

Store owner Jim Patterson said he and his wife, Kim Patterson, got approval from zoning authorities before the council began work on an ordinance. Now they believe the council members are changing the law specifically to keep them from opening.

“We followed the rules,” Jim Patterson said.

The Pattersons and other speakers at the meeting argued that the city was creating a double standard by not going after convenience stores that sell adult magazines and videos or Spencer’s Gifts, which sells sexual devices.

Committee Chairman Doug Christensen acknowledged that the ordinance was in reaction to their store but said laws usually do not anticipate issues that are legitimate areas of regulation.

“It’s unfortunate that we couldn’t anticipate all the problems,” he said. “This has become an issue that has to be addressed. It’s unfortunate that you folks have to be the genesis for this being addressed.”

Committee members said the ordinance was not based on prudishness or meant to prohibit sexually oriented businesses, but to define their proper place.

“I think there’s a place for sexually oriented businesses in town. I just don’t think this is a logical location,” said member Dana Sande. “I can’t help but support this.”

The ordinance would create a license requirement for several types of adult businesses, including adult book and video stores, strip clubs and stores selling sexual devices. However, it exempts sexual device stores located inside enclosed shopping malls from the new regulations.

That exemption rankled Jim Patterson, who has compared his store to Spencer’s Gifts in Columbia Mall, as well as Council Member Curt Kreun, who objected to the exclusion.

“If we’re going to do this for one, we should do it for them all,” Kreun said.

The ordinance will advance to the full City Council’s April 16 meeting.

The committee left open the question of the distance sexually oriented businesses can be from the protected locations. City Attorney Howard Swanson recommended 500 feet while Christensen pushed for 1,000 feet.