ZBA says 'no' to Union Ave. sex shop proposal

LACONIA — The Zoning Board of Adjustment last night formally and unanimously denied Dave Byer, the owner of Capital City Pawnbrokers at 570 Union Avenue, a variance that would permit him to operate a sexually oriented business within 500 feet of four residential properties.
Byer sought the variance to overcome the decision of Planning Director Shanna Saunders prohibiting Byer from opening the store in the building that for decades housed Mac-Durgin Business Systems. At a hearing last month Byer explained that the "adult novelties" would be shelved and displayed in a mezzanine at the rear of the building, where he operates a pawn shop and smoke shop on the ground level, accessible only to adults.
Steve Bogert, chairman of the ZBA, emphasized that if it granted a variance, it would remain with the building, entitling any future owners to pursue any of the uses within the definition of "sexually oriented business."
Several neighbors, including Don Sorenson, who owns a commercial property almost directly across the street, and attorney Jennifer J. Brook, whose law office is at 586 Union Avenue, told the board that the business and its clientele would hasten the deterioration of Union Avenue. Sorenson called Byer's inventory "pornographic material."
Following the hearing the board was unanimously agreed to deny the variance, but voted to refer the drafting of its decision to the city attorney and table the matter until last night. "I'm dead in the water. It's just a matter of wording it," said Byer, who was not present when the ZBA confirmed its decision last night.
In moving to deny the variance, Suzanne Perley said that the proposed use of the property was both contrary to the public interest and the spirit of the zoning ordinance. She said that the sale of adult videos and sexual aids could have a "cumulative impact" by attracting kindred businesses to the neighborhood. The purpose of the ordinance, she said, was to forestall uses that would alter the essential character of the area. Moreover, Perley stressed that Byer offered no reason to suppose that he would suffer a hardship if the use were prohibited, which is among the tests required for a variance. "He is not being denied the use of his property," she noted.