Judge’s decision stalls Sakas again

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Suffolk News-Herald

A federal court judge on Tuesday denied a North Carolina businessman’s request for a temporary restraining order that would have allowed him to open an adult entertainment shop in the downtown Suffolk immediately.

Barry N. Covert, attorney for Gregory Sakas – who has been trying to get the permits and business licenses to open an adult novelty shop at Suffolk West Shopping Center since May 2003 – asked for the restraining order one day before the Suffolk City Council is expected to amend zoning regulations to include adult-use businesses.

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Zoning for adult-use businesses is not included in the Unified Development Ordinance, the city’s growth management ordinance. The proposed amendment would allow such businesses to locate with B-2 zoning areas, so long as they are kept a certain distance from &uot;sensitive&uot; areas, including residences, schools, historical districts, agricultural areas, nursing homes, and churches. Applicants would also have to get a conditional use permit.

A temporary restraining order would have forced the city to issue whatever permits needed so Sakas could open his shop within hours, regardless of the action the City Council takes tonight.

&uot;A TRO is not warranted in this case,&uot; U.S. District Court Judge Jerome Friedman said during the hearing. &uot;A temporary restraining order… is intended to preserve status quo until a hearing can be held.&uot;

Also, proof must be shown that the business/individual is suffering irreparable harm without the retraining order, said Friedman.

Friedman also questioned Covert’s specific request that Tuesday’s hearing be held before tonight’s council meeting.

If the court doesn’t approve the current injunction, the new zoning restrictions could keep Sakas from opening in the West Constance Road shopping center space he has been leasing since May 15, Covert said.

&uot;What the city does tomorrow night is irrelevant,&uot; said Covert. &uot;We want a vested right to operate at that location…as we sought to open 225 days ago.&uot;

Additionally, documents filed show the city has worked consistently for the past few months to amend the UDO to address the adult-business issue, Friedman said.

&uot;It was a gamble on his (Sakas) part to sign a lease, wasn’t it?&uot; Friedman said. &uot;The city didn’t sit on its hands. It’s not as though the city has done nothing since May 15.&uot;

Covert disagreed, saying Sakas’ first amendment right to free speech has been denied for nearly eight months and that the city hasn’t addressed the zoning issues as quickly as it could have.

&uot;Status quo can’t be maintained because status quo is banned,&uot; Covert said. &uot;Mr. Sakas should be permitted to open immediately.&uot;