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Published: Tuesday, 5/7/2002

Council may stall new adult businesses

On a bookshelf in his office at the Toledo-Lucas County Plan Commissions, Executive Director Steve Herwat has collected two cupfuls of naked women - explicit tokens from video viewing booths that have been strewn into neighbors' yards by departing clients of Toledo's adult video stores.

“They're not really the type of thing a man takes home and tosses into his coin jar,” Mr. Herwat said, dumping the quarter-sized reminders of Toledo's growing sex industry onto his conference table.

“The problem is getting worse,” he said.

Today, Toledo City Council could take another step in putting pressure on the adult entertainment industry: It is expected to consider a 180-day moratorium on new permits for adult entertainment establishments.

That's enough time for a consultant to take a peep into Toledo's skin trade and determine what, if anything, the city can do to curb neighbors' complaints about it and possibly control further growth.

To do that, the consultants will document “secondary effects” of the business, including things like tokens being tossed into citizens' yards, residents' complaints, and crime reports, Mr. Herwat said.

Duncan Associates, an Austin, Texas, planning consulting firm, will be paid $19,500 for that task.

To do that, they've turned to urban planners Eric Damian Kelly and Connie Cooper, authors of the 169-page book Everything You Wanted to Know about Regulating Sex Businesses.

Mr. Kelly warned, though, that the Constitution and the marketplace protect sex products short of those considered legally obscene.

The key is finding a way to make the industry more tolerable.

Licensing can do that by setting up guidelines on how businesses operate and giving local authorities the power to close them down if those rules aren't followed, he said.

For example, prohibiting loiters and maintaining well-lit, clean parking lots can make a business less objectionable, he said.

“There's a tacit assumption that the First Amendment protects the businesses. It doesn't,” he said. “It protects the material.”

The proposed moratorium, of course, won't affect the two dozen or more adult entertainment sites already in Toledo - from lingerie shops to video stores to nude-dancing clubs.

But it could impede any pending business plans. For example, another business seems poised to open in what is becoming a sort of red light district along a section of Telegraph Road and Detroit Avenue. Outside a former restaurant, 4635 North Detroit, a neon sign has been put up advertising the Velvet Rope, a club for women.

Mr. Herwat said he suspects it will feature male dancing, although no permit request has been filed. The building's apparent owner could not be reached for comment yesterday.

It's that kind of business that makes Duncan's report so critical for the city, said Councilwoman Betty Shultz, who in March unsuccessfully fought the opening of Priscilla's, a sex-novelty shop near Notre Dame Academy and Christ the King Elementary School in West Toledo.

“It may be that this type of business and entertaining is fine for some people,” she said. “But it should not be inflicted on the general public.”



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