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Christopher Bjorke, Grand Forks Herald , Published April 16 2012

Grand Forks council passes sex shop ordinance

GRAND FORKS - The City Council on Monday unanimously passed an ordinance to restrict where sexually oriented businesses can operate.

The action follows four weeks of debate over how the city can regulate businesses that supporters of the ordinance say harm the neighborhoods where they are located.

“I think it’s reasonable for the City Council to address the negative secondary effects before they become problems,” said council member Doug Christensen.

The ordinance creates a licensing requirement for owners of adult book and video stores, cinemas, strip clubs and sexual paraphernalia shops, prohibiting them from locating within 1,000 feet of schools and 500 feet of places of worship, parks and residential zones.

The ordinance arose from objections by residents to plans by the owners of Fantasy’s, a Fargo store selling lingerie and sexual devices, to open a store at 418 N. Washington St. a block from Winship Elementary School.

The owners said the council’s move to enact the law before they could open their store was an unfair roadblock for a business that was legally allowed to open on the commercial street.

“Back in January we had submitted everything and had approval,” said owner Kim Patterson. “We think it’s very unfair of you to change the rules this late in the game.”

Patterson and her husband, Jim Patterson, declined to comment on what they will do next with a Grand Forks location.

Council Vice President Eliot Glassheim, who requested the ordinance, said the law protected residents while setting rules on how adult businesses can operate.

“It provides for the safety of kids and spaces for businesses,” he said.

The council’s Finance and Development Committee recommended approval of the ordinance last week but left open the question of how far sexually oriented businesses must stay from the schools, churches and other restricted areas.

Christensen said staff with Grand Forks Public Schools asked for a longer distance than the 500-foot distance in an earlier draft of the law.

Council members debated a part of the ordinance that exempted sexual paraphernalia stores located in shopping malls from the rules. City Attorney Howard Swanson said he made the exemption because negative secondary effects found in cases he cited in the law did not apply to shops not on public streets. Mall shops also do not have late business hours and were not visible from the street.

Spencer’s Gifts, a national chain selling sexual devices, has a location in Columbia Mall.

Member Terry Bjerke asked for the exemption to be removed from the ordinance but the council voted down his proposal 5-2, with Curt Kreun joining Bjerke in supporting it.

In addition to restricting where sexually oriented businesses can operate, the new ordinance creates a licensing procedure similar to laws for bars and restaurants selling alcohol. It also sets a 2 a.m. closing time for the businesses.

Under the ordinance, owners and employees must receive licenses from the city to operate. The city will have the authority to revoke a license if a business does not meet requirements.

Grounds for revoking a license include a business allowing controlled substances to be sold or used at its location, allowing prostitution or allowing sexual activity at its location.

Existing sexually oriented businesses will have 120 days to comply with the new law.