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Sick of Smut, Community Bd. Looks to Rein In Sex Shops

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Their growth unfettered over the past decade, adult-oriented businesses have blossomed in Sunset Park. The presence of these businesses besmirches the image of this neighborhood, according to Community Board 7, and the problem, as it sees the situation, must be addressed. Hoping to spur action, the board last week began the circulation of a petition urging the mayor to “do whatever is necessary to close the sex shops that proliferate in Sunset Park.” Jeremy Laufer, district manager of the community board, said present law does not do enough to safeguard the community. “A lot of this comes from frustration,” said Laufer said. Sunset Park, like no other neighborhood in Brooklyn, has been targeted by the sex industry, Laufer said. He said many of the shops operate legally by exploiting loopholes in the law. In 1995, a law was enacted that mandates that businesses classified as adult establishm­ents—strip clubs, X-rated movie theaters—be located 500 feet from a home, school, church and each other. This quickly facilitated the sanitization of Times Square—but neighborhoods like Sunset Park say they have paid a high price. Adult-oriented businesses just crossed the bridge to Brooklyn. Many adult-themed video shops or bookstores are not classified as adult establishments, because of the 60/40 rule, which states that the majority of floor area in a store cannot be pornographic in nature. This allows the shops to open where they would otherwise be outlawed. Stores that follow the law devote a certain amount of shelf space to non-pornographic material. “It’s not as cut and dried in terms of illegality,” Laufer said. The Bloomberg administration has vowed to take a closer look at the 60/40 requirement, seeking more stringent enforcement. In April, the Appellate Court ruled that the city could pursue a 2001 regulation it passed, which provides a more “common sense” definition of pornography and closes the loophole to zoning regulations. Lawyers representing the sex industry appealed the case to the Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court. “If new laws need to be passed, pass them!” the petition implores. Herald Fahringer, an attorney representing close to 100 adult video stores and X-rated theaters in the five boroughs, said his clients have every right to operate in Sunset Park. “In a free society, there is recognition that these video tapes are just as protected as ‘Titanic,’” he said. “They are allowed to sell them.” “If this was one of the Blockbuster stores, no one would think twice,” Fahringer added. “I understand that there is a perception that we don’t want these places in our neighborhood…but these materials are protected by the First Amendment,” the attorney said. But Laufer said the issue is not about free speech. “I view it as a zoning issue and an issue dealing with equity and fairness,” he said. “I don’t believe there are specific communities where speech should be freer than others,” Laufer added. There are now about 23 adult video stores and two strip clubs in Sunset Park alone, Laufer noted. Sweet Cherry strip club on 42nd Street was recently shuttered after a handful of managers and strippers were indicted on a host of charges, including prostitution, rape and drug dealing. When the arrests were announced, District Attorney Charles Hynes said that illegal activity at adult establishments would not be tolerated. “Unfortunat­ely, these establishments are protected under the Constitution, but they are such a plague on the communities around them,” Hynes told the New York Times. “I think any time you have these things that entice people with these kind of prurient tastes, it follows into prostitution,” he said. Asked about what can be done about the surfeit of adult shops in Sunset Park, a spokesperson for Hynes would only say, “We will investigate any allegations of criminality that are brought to us.” Fahringer said claims that adult businesses lower property values and promote anti-social conduct are inaccurate. “Every single study that has ever been done—including the city’s own in 1995—has established no correlation between bookstores, erotic material and prostitution,” Fahringer said. “It’s kind of sad that people try to popularize this notion,” he said.

Posted 7:05 pm, October 10, 2011
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