Lingerie, anatomical areas and the trouble with vagueness

Patricia Edmonds’ shop is tied up in legal shades of gray.

Raymond Nees, assistant manager of building services for this fair city, walked into Edmonds’ store, “Simply Sensual” on Wiley Boulevard way out west, down the road from a cornfield, and saw what he declares to be an "adult entertainment establishment." He looked around and concluded that a “substantial or significant portion” of its business involves selling items depicting what the city code calls “specified sexual activities or specified anatomical areas.”

His opinion means that Edmonds now has 30 days to remove that stuff or shut down. Her store now violates zoning rules. For one thing, there’s a church behind the shop, and an adult entertainment facility can’t be within 450 feet of it.

The board of adjustment rejected her appeal without comment Monday. The all-male panel was left speechless.

I walked into the shop Wednesday and saw a lot of lingerie hanging about, games and novelty items, the kind of stuff you might find at a bachelorette party. There’s a pole dancing kit, and pans for baking unusual cakes.

And, behind a wall in the back of the store, there are sexually explicit videos and magazines for sale, along with sex toys of varying sizes and, uh, shapes.

Still, when I think of adult entertainment joints, this is not the sort of place that springs to mind. It’s basically a small, quiet business. When city leaders put tight zoning restrictions on adult entertainment, I also doubt this is the sort of place they had in mind. Theaters, clubs, cabarets, sure. Not this strip mall store.

That’s just my opinion, carrying about as much weight as a garter.

I might not be alone. Edmonds says, since her shop made news, a few folks have showed up, expecting entertainment. She said they walk in, glance around briefly, find themselves un-entertained and walk out. It actually happened while I was there.

Back to shades of gray. Edmonds has a point when she argues that “substantial or significant” leaves a lot to the imagination. Nees ordered her to remove all items depicting those specified activities and parts. But those specifics are also pretty broad.

Edmonds considered removing movies and magazines. But then she wondered what the city would make her toss next. Will she have to run every new product past a city official, just in case they are, as Nees puts it, "beyond the pale?"

Wouldn’t it be better if the law contained clear, objective standards? Instead of measuring significant or substantial, how about maximum square footage, shelf space, number of items, percentage of sales, etc.? Bright lines instead of hip shots.

And who is this episode of tough zoning protecting? At a time when anyone with a smartphone has an adult cinema in their pocket, this seems overblown. The Rev. Jay Eberly from the Spirit of Family Church next door says kids at its preschool need protection from “child molesters” thatr may be drawn to the store. Please.

So, if she can find a lawyer, Edmonds is headed to court, which makes sense. That's where well-intentioned laws get checked for harmful, unnecessary vagueness. Let’s hope the ruling is revealing.

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