Property Owner Rejects Adult Business At WOC Site
WEST OCEAN CITY - Rumors that an adult bookstore had leased a high-profile property on Route 50 in West Ocean City stirred up unrest this week among residents and officials.
The rumor making the rounds in recent weeks had it that an adult bookstore was negotiating to lease the former Harley-Davidson shop at the intersection of Route 50 and Keyser Point Rd., most recently home to gourmet food shop Avalon Market, which recently closed its doors after negotiations over rent were unsuccessful.
Oyster Harbor resident Claudia Gausepohl overheard a local realtor discussing the deal last week, she said, and immediately became concerned.
'I don't think it's appropriate,' said Gausepohl.
The site is not far from Ocean City Elementary School. According to Gausepohl, school buses and parents mainly use Keyser Point Rd. to access the school.
Gausepohl said she is concerned about what the store would sell and promote and also about the crowds of curious patrons the store would attract.
'This is a main entrance to Ocean City. Do we want all of the people coming into Ocean City to see this?' Gausepohl asked.
The store, she said, would send the message, 'Welcome to Ocean City. We support porn.'
Walter Taralia of Weichert Realtors confirmed the rumor was true that an adult business had inquired about opening up at the location. However, he said the property owner, Harley Davidson of Ocean City, rejected the offer.
'That's not the kind of business we hope to have in there,' said Bruce Bennett, whose family owns the property in question as well as the Harley-Davidson store on Route 50 and Seahawk Road. 'We had an offer but we denied it. We just didn't feel it was good for the property.'
Taralia said the Bennetts simply chose not to accept the proposed new tenant.
'It wasn't the long-term tenant they were looking for,' said Taralia. 'The owners have a right not to rent.'
Neighbors in the area applauded the Bennett's decision not to accept the new tenant.
'I'm impressed they would turn down an offer,' Gausepohl said. 'In this day and age, most people just want to take the money and run,'
The site is prime real estate, Taralia said, and he has received other offers to lease it.
Bennett said they hope to have a new tenant in the building, empty since the end of February, soon. 'We've had a lot of people very interested in it,' he said.
The Oyster Harbor Homeowners Association wants to make sure sexually-oriented establishments do not set up anywhere within the vicinity.
'As a community, we're going to send a letter to the County Commissioners,' said Joy Snyder, a member of the Oyster Harbor Board of Directors as well as a prominent realtor. 'The Board of Directors as a whole takes opposition to it.'
Prior to this week's news, the County Commissioners were already looking into regulating sexually oriented businesses, after the controversy over an adult store opening in Ocean City in March, said Commissioner Bud Church, who represents West Ocean City.
'I am staying right on top of it,' Church said. 'I'm as concerned as anyone in my district.'
The county has engaged a law firm to look into regulating sexually-oriented businesses, from adult book and video stores to topless bars.
'We're exploring that possibility,' Church said. 'They are working on it as we speak.'
The law firm's opinion should be complete soon, likely by mid-May, he said.
Last month, Ocean City imposed a six-month moratorium on new sexually-oriented businesses after citizens complained about the new adult shop. The town will use the time to put together controls on adult businesses.
'We're looking to regulate sexually-oriented businesses,' said Ocean City Solicitor Guy Ayres. 'That does not necessarily mean we're trying to prevent them.'
Zoning laws are likely to be established to control where such businesses are located, including defining minimum distances between sexually-oriented establishments and churches, as well as residential neighborhoods, and other adult businesses.
Business license requirements could restrict the types of adult businesses allowed and impose a minimum age for patrons.
'You have to be very careful,' Ayres said. 'Codes cannot be designed to eliminate or not allow them.'
Church agreed regulating locations for adult-themed business is a slippery slope. 'It's tough, it's very tough,' said Church.
The Ocean City Planning Commission is looking into the changes now, Ayres said.
Ocean City faces problems that the county does not, as the resort is geographically confined. The town does not have the heavily commercialized or industrial neighborhoods that many cities restrict sexually oriented establishments to. 'Where are you going to put them?' Ayres asked.
While the former Avalon Market will not become home to an adult bookstore, such businesses could still move in elsewhere in the county.
'What the average voter doesn't understand is you can't just write an ordinance saying you can't put in [an adult] bookstore,' Church said.