Possible adult shop causing friction

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Suffolk News-Herald

A North Carolina man, encountering resistance to his proposal to open an adult novelty store in downtown Suffolk, is threatening to file a federal lawsuit against the city.

Gary Sakas, president of the Goldsboro, N.C.-based Casual Fun Productions Inc., is attempting to open the company’s sixth store at Suffolk West Shopping Center. Sakas said he’s already leased a 1,000-square-foot storefront at the West Constance Road shopping center.

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On Tuesday, the city’s court-appointed Board of Zoning Appeals upheld an earlier decision made by Erik Fox, assistant director of Neighborhood Development Services, that the proposed store is not in accordance with the city’s growth management tool, the Unified Development Ordinance.

Fox made his initial determination using a list of all the possible uses permitted in shopping center’s zoning designation, said Scott Mills, the city’s planning director. Currently, he said, the UDO doesn’t permit adult book/novelty shops to operate anywhere within the city.

&uot;There was no listing for adult bookstores,&uot; said Scott Mills, director of planning. &uot;Therefore, it was presumed not to be permitted.&uot;

Fox has asked the planning commission to consider whether the UDO should be amended to include adult-related businesses on its lists of permitted businesses, Mills said.

He would not estimate how long that review could take.

&uot;The best case scenario is 60 days,&uot; Mills said. But by the time the planning commission studies it, public hearings are held and the City Council grapples with the proposal, two months could easily stretch into six or more, he added.

Meanwhile, Sakas has retained the services of Lipsitz, Green, Fahringer, Roll, Salisburg, and Cambria, the Buffalo, N.Y.-based law firm that represents Hustler and its publisher, Larry Flynt.

In a letter to the city, Barry N. Covert, an attorney with the firm, said that the city’s act is a violation to his client’s constitutional rights.

Covert also challenged the city’s procedure requiring anyone wanting to open &uot;adult-oriented&uot; businesses apply for a conditional use permit. The request is then evaluated by a zoning administrator who determines whether it meets necessary city zoning requirements. If the request is denied, the applicant then has the right to go before the city Board of Zoning Appeals.

Also, Covert said, the UDO does not list guidelines for the zoning administrator to use in making his decision.

&uot;The … administrator is left to use

his/her own criteria in making this decision,&uot; Covert said.

Although he doesn’t want to use the legal avenue, Sakas said he would take that road if necessary.

&uot;I’m hoping against hope that this will be resolved without that,&uot; he said. &uot;…They are holding this process up because they are hoping I won’t spend the money it will take to do this.

&uot;…We’re not going to walk away from this.&uot;

Sakas owns similar novelty shops in Charlottesville and in several North Carolina localities, including Elizabeth City, Wilmington, Havelock, Wilson and Lumberton.

All of his stores are &uot;up-tempo,&uot; he said.

&uot;We’re not some seedy store, …this is a store for ladies and gentlemen. We’re low-key. We want an image that is basically wholesome.

&uot;We try to take care not to offend anyone.&uot;

Upon entering his shop, patrons would see only displays of lingerie, similar to that sold by Frederick’s of Hollywood, Sakas said.

Once inside, customers would have to be buzzed into the 18-and-over section where the more provocative novelties and gag gifts can be found, he said. Even so, many products in that section can be purchased at Spencer’s Gifts or even a pharmacy now, he said.

Additionally, the store would not use window displays or exteriors advertising posters lights and posters, Sakas said.

Getting the necessary zoning permits and licenses from other localities where his stores are located wasn’t been as difficult as it has been in Suffolk, he said.

However, after his store opened in Elizabeth City six years ago, city planners tightened zoning regulations enough that similar stores would not be able to open within city limits, said Ben Deck, city reporter for The Daily Advance in Elizabeth City.

The store, Nite Dreams, was grandfathered so long as it stays in its current location, he said. But the revised zoning regulations are now making it difficult for the novelty shop to accommodate the landlord’s request that it move two doors down in the same strip mall so an adjacent business could expand, Deck said.

Nite Dreams has never been cited for code enforcement or age restriction violations, said Capt. Frank Koch, the city’s acting police chief.