Published DateLACONIA — The Zoning Board of Adjustment last night refused to overrule the decision of Planning Director Shanna Director to prohibit Dave Byer from operating a sexually oriented business at 570 Union Avenue because, contrary to the zoning ordinance, it would be within 500 feet of four residential properties.
Seeking to overcome Saunder's decision, Byer requested a variance from the ZBA. Although the board was unanimously agreed to deny the variance, it voted to refer the drafting of its decision to the city attorney and table the matter until its next meeting on July 15.
Byer, the owner of Capital City Pawnbrokers in the Mac-Durgin building at 570 Union Ave., seeks to sell what he called "adult novelties" in the mezzanine at the rear of his building, where he operates a pawn shop and smoke shop on the ground level. When the board announced its decision, he said "I'm dead in the water. It's just a matter of wording it."
Asked by Suzanne Perley of the ZBA to "expand on what adult novelties means," he replied "movies, books, dildos, vibrators along with a lot of phallic instruments and reproductions of male and female genitalia. I want to be as graphic as possible," he continued, explaining that he was not trying to disguise the nature of the business.
When Byer distributed photographs of his intended inventory to the board members, Dave Greski said "these are not toys." Byer agreed, describing the items as "high tech instruments." Asked about the sale of condoms and lubricants, he said that the same products were on the shelves at Walgreen's, Rite-Aid and CVS, in plain view of children, stressing that his merchandise would be shelved in a separate part of the store, accessible only to adults.
Byer described the signage at his store as "generic," reading, in psychedelic script "Good Vibrations & Smoke Shop, Adult Novelties." Declaring that he took pride in the appearance of his store, he said he wanted it "to reflect K-Mart, not a bordello. I'm a pawnbroker" he acknowledged, "so the impression of a bottom-feeder is there already."
Steve Bogert, chairman of the ZBA, assured that the board did not intend to question either his character or his business, but emphasized that if it granted a variance, it would remain with building. "If we grant it, the whole wagon train goes with it," he said, explaining that a future owner of the property would be entitled to pursue any of the uses within the definition of "sexually oriented business."
Don Sorenson, who owns a commercial property almost across the street, told the board that he is "really disturbed by the degeneration of Union Avenue in general." He said that while he had no quarrel with the pawn shop, "there is a difference between selling merchandise and setting out bait," calling the products Byer proposed to sell "pornographic material."
In a letter to the ZBA, attorney Jennifer J. Brook, whose law office is at 586 Union Avenue, warned that the clientele drawn to the store would place residents "at risk of irreparable harm." She pictured the proposal as a sign of the "further deterioration of this area of the city."
Greski agreed that the store would have an adverse impact on the neighborhood, referring the "Combat Zone" in Boston as an example. "It's not your store," he told Byer, "but what it draws."
"You're talking about the sale of flesh," Byer protested. "I'm not talking about the sale of flesh," he said, "only plastic, rubber, glass, metal." He said that "cops, lawyers, doctors, businessmen, secretaries. Those are the people in my store.'" He said that he was a father of four, including three adult daughters who "hold me to a standard well above what you're holding me to."
Byer pleaded with the board to grant a variance with conditions and monitor his operation closely, but Bogert replied that the ZBA had no authority to enter such an arrangement. Byer said that after reviewing the ordinance with Saunders and describing circles with radiuses of 500 feet, he found "unless I'm banished to The Weirs, there are only two lots where I can do this."