By Alex Bridges
Adult businesses could open just about anywhere in Shenandoah County without rules on the books.
But proposed regulations would give county officials greater control over where such businesses can operate. The county zoning ordinance lacks any mention of adult businesses -- neither definitions nor associated regulations. County Attorney J. Jay Litten said Monday that without regulations an adult business could open in the county by right.
Director of the Office of Community Development Brandon Davis said Monday his department has not fielded any applications or inquiries by proprietors seeking to open adult businesses in the county. Davis and Litten said the move is a proactive step. Litten brought it to the attention of planning and zoning officials in recent months and has recommended officials take steps to implement regulations that would control where such businesses operate.
The Planning Commission takes up the proposal Thursday and will schedule a public hearing on the proposed regulations. The amendments would define adult businesses and allow them in the business-zoning district by special-use permit only. Supervisors may consider several factors when taking up permit applications, such as the nature of the surrounding area, how such a use may impair present or future development, and its proximity to existing homes, churches, schools and parks.
"I guess the purpose of it is to identify the risks associated with not regulating a particular land use, which is the case we have right now, and mitigate those risks in the most reasonable way that we see fit," Davis said.
Litten provided county officials with information based on numerous studies conducted in large cities in the 1990s, including Newport News, which point out a correlation between adult businesses and crime rates, neighboring businesses and property values.
Frederick County requires that adult retail businesses locate at least 2,500 feet from the property line of any similar operations, schools, churches, parks, day care facilities or residential uses. Frederick County doesn't allow adult businesses in shopping centers or multi-tenant buildings. Merchandise can't be visible from outside. The county limits the size and type of signs and hours of operation for adult businesses.
Planning and zoning staff has not discussed any specific concerns related to adult businesses and possible locations, Davis said.
"I will say that those unforeseen issues that exist out there, you cannot protect everyone from everything," Davis said. "What you try to do is be reasonable in the regulations that you put on the books to protect the general welfare as well as property rights, and it's up to the community as a whole and the representatives they elect to define that line between restrictions that restrict general property rights and the public protection aspect."
Such regulations shouldn't affect whether or not a proprietor seeks to set up an adult business in the county, Davis said. The ordinance amendments also should comply with the First Amendment and not hinder one's right to free speech, Davis added. The proposed regulations also grant an applicant the right to appeal a denial by the Board of Supervisors.
Davis brought the matter before the Board of Supervisors at its work session June 5. The Planning Commission could authorize county staff to hold a public hearing with the Board of Supervisors on the proposed regulations Sept. 4. The commission could make a recommendation to the board, which then could take action at its Sept. 23 meeting.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or email@example.com