Volume 74, Number 19 | September 08 - 14 , 2004

Porn free? Villagers try to sweep out smut

By Albert Amateau

Mayor Michael Bloomberg told a Greenwich Village Block Associations forum last month, “I wouldn’t want a porn parlor in my neighborhood and you shouldn’t either.” But given First Amendment guarantees of free expression and a pending court case regarding zoning intended to curtail adult entertainment shops, the solution to problems about porn shops is far from simple.

Nevertheless, City Councilmember Christine Queen has organized a Wed. Sept. 8 public meeting with several city agencies to focus on ways to stem what many Village and Chelsea residents feel is a flood of pornography pouring through legal loopholes.

“By getting several city agencies that intersect with this issue together in the same room with community folk we hope we’ll be able to enforce current regulations and target shops that are lawless,” said Quinn earlier this week. “We believe that many of these establishments are in violation of various city codes,” she added.

In addition to local police, representatives from the multi-agency Mayor’s Office of Midtown Enforcement and the Department of Buildings are to join the 7 p.m. Wed. Sept. 8 meeting in Father Demo Hall at Our Lady of Pompei Church on Bleecker and Carmine Sts.

Current enforcement is based on the 60-40 definition of adult entertainment, developed as a result of court cases, saying if 40 percent or more of a shop is devoted to pornography it is subject to zoning designed to prevent porn shops from clustering close to each other and from operating near schools or residential areas. Shops selling pornography are also subject to rules about where the adult material may be placed.

However, courts have so far defined pornography as graphic representations, printed matter or videos, and excluded sex toys such as dildos, bondage equipment and erotic underwear and lingerie, often called “marital aides,” and other sex-related items, like phallic pasta, which many neighbors find offensive, especially when on view in display windows.

The city’s attempt in 2001 to close those loopholes has been challenged in court and a crucial case is pending in the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court.

Villagers have been complaining about porn shops with blatant widow displays at several locations. “People have been telling me about establishments on Sixth Ave. at 13th St. and between Bleecker and W. Fourth Sts., on Seventh Ave. around St. Vincent’s Hospital, to name a few places,” said Art Strickler, district manager of Community Board 2, which covers the Village and part of Soho.

Chelsea residents became angry last year about The Blue Store, a porn shop that opened at 206 Eighth Ave. with a front window illuminated by garish blue lights but displaying no sexual material. The store also conformed to the 60-40 rule, which exempted it from adult entertainment zoning regulations.

But after numerous neighborhood complaints last year, D.O.B. cited The Blue Store for sign violations and the store toned down the blue lights. Since then, occasional inspections by the 10th Precinct and the Mayor’s Office of Midtown Enforcement have helped keep the store’s public displays less offensive to the neighborhood, according to Michelle Solomon, assistant district manager of Community Board 4.

The city in 2001 adopted zoning amendments to provide a “common sense” definition of pornography. But the amendments were challenged in State Supreme Court and the city lost the case when a judge decided the city failed to conduct a study to assess the impact on the community of the new definition. The city, however, took the case up to the Appellate Division, saying the study had been conducted when the original 1995 adult establishment zoning amendment was adopted.

“We believe the amendments will ultimately be approved by the courts, but until they are, they cannot be enforced,” said Gabriel Taussig, chief of administrative law in the city Law Department.

While current enforcement of adult entertainment zoning may be based only on current 60-40 definitions, Quinn said a new emphasis on enforcing existing law could have “a chilling effect” on the most offensive establishments.

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