XXX-rated ordinance: City wants to regulate adult fun

Charlottesville's long and colorful history includes brothels, sex shops– and even porn flicks packaged as "businessman's special" matinees at the now abandoned Terrace Triple theater. What the city has never had is an ordinance regulating such activities. That's about to change as the city totally rewrites its zoning ordinance in graphic detail.

The revised regulations aim to create a more urban, pedestrian-oriented community and provide stability to traditional neighborhoods, says Jim Tolbert, head of neighborhood development services. City fathers, it seems, don't believe the new urbanism will be aided by topless bars.

"I think it was a general notion our community was vulnerable," says deputy city attorney Lisa Kelley. "We were lucky we hadn't had a red-light district." The city planning staff decided to throw in a section on adult use while the zoning ordinance was being overhauled for the first time since 1972.

Kelley says the intent isn't to ban strip clubs, adult theaters, and massage parlors. Nor, she says, was Ultimate Bliss, a new store loaded with sex toys, a factor. (Although its July opening in the old Reines Jewelers building behind Kentucky Fried Chicken on Angus Road raised a few neighborhood eyebrows.)

"We want to prohibit a concentration of them," explains Kelley, "so they didn't all congregate in one red-light district."

Still, with the proposed ordinance limiting adult establishments from within 1,000 feet of each other, residences, schools, religious institutions, public parks, playgrounds, or day care centers, someone wanting to open an adult video store would be hard pressed to find a suitable spot.

"It would need to be in the heart of a longstanding industrial or commercial use district," suggests Kelley. Job one upon receiving such an application? "We'd have to get out the ruler," says Kelley.

Under the proposed ordinance, Ultimate Bliss would not be allowed to open in its current location. That doesn't bother owner Greg because his establishment will be grandfathered in as a nonconforming use.

"We went with what was on the books," Sakaf says. "We haven't caused a problem or disturbance."

So as Charlottesville legislates, Sakaf's virtual monopoly of the dildo business may actually be protected by the proposed ordinance. "Why would I want to fight it?" he asks.

This isn't the first time a community has changed zoning after Sakaf showed up. In Kinston, North Carolina, the ordinance was changed to prohibit adult use within 1,000 feet of a cemetery after he opened a store near a graveyard.

And Sakaf has run into an interesting irony in Lumberton, North Carolina: a church opened up next to his sex shop.

"The zoning department had no problem putting a church in beside us, but we couldn't be within 1,000 feet of a church. Is there something here that I'm missing?" he asks.

Why is 1,000 feet the magic distance between sin and sanctity? Mainly because that's what was used in Richmond and Roanoke, upon which Charlottesville's regulations are based, say Kelley and Tolbert.

A draft of the new ordinance spells out in explicit detail what constitutes adult use. Its specifics regarding adult anatomical areas and sexual activities make it the only regulation on the books that uses the words "turgid," "areola," and "tumescence."

"You almost need a brown bag wrapped around it," joshes Tolbert.

Among big no-nos in the specified sexual activities section are masturbation, intercourse, and fondling of the female breast. But wait, aren't those evils routinely shown in R movies?

As long as the wanking off, rolling in the hay, or groping occur in a movie rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America, it's okay under city ordinance. Nor will it be a problem if Vinegar Hill chooses to show NC-17 movies or an unrated film such as Requiem for a Dream.

"The question is whether a theater receives a substantial portion of its business from adult movies," says Kelley.

And if Live Arts puts on a production with full frontal nudity like Venus Hottentot or Wit, well, the ordinance allows "live theatrical performances with serious artistic, social, or political value" to go on– no matter how many genitals are shown.

Under the adult massage parlor section, exemptions are made for massage by an athletic trainer or in a licensed hospital under the auspices of a doctor but no mention is made about licensed massage therapists, with which this town is replete.

Kelley says the intent is not to restrict massage therapists and adds that they may need to be included in the ordinance. She clarifies: The person being massaged may be unclothed, "but the person providing it can't be naked."

By November 26, the planning staff will have a draft of the ordinance on the city's website, says Tolbert. A public hearing on the entire zoning ordinance is scheduled for December 10; then it goes to the planning commission for a vote December 14. If it passes there, it should come before city council in January.

And if approved by council, the adult use section with its detailed forbidden sexual acts and anatomical descriptions promises to be the hottest government paper since the Starr Report.