Revised town bylaw allows strip bars in ‘overlay district’

Despite the fact that numerous Williamstown residents have voiced

adamant opposition to the prospect of strip bars opening in the town,

the Planning Board has reversed its decision to ban both adult cabarets

and strip bars from the town. Following a public hearing on April 3, the

board unanimously agreed to change the proposed zoning bylaw concerning

adult entertainment, which would have banned strip bars completely. The

original bylaw restricted the activities of adult book stores, video

stores and sexual paraphernalia stores to an 11-acre “overlay district”

on Route 2, while completely prohibiting live entertainment and

theaters. The new version of the bylaw allows adult cabarets and

cinemas, but still restricts them to the same overlay district.Chairman

of the Planning Board Mary Fuqua said adult activities are restricted to

this stretch of land because it is a small area that can be

well-policed.Fuqua said the revisions were made because “the town

counsel [Joel B. Bard] advises that prohibition of any type of adult

entertainment would be illegal.” In a letter to the Director of

Inspectional Services, Bard’s opinion was that “the Attorney General may

not appprove the bylaw in its current form.” Bard reminded the town that

“adult entertainment uses are viewed as forms of speech and expression

protected under the First Amendment.” Bard said the town cannot legally

deny adult businesses “a reasonable opportunity to open and operate.”

Fuqua said the board changed the bylaw because the town probably would

lose a court challenge. “It doesn’t make sense to pass a bylaw that will

be struck down,” Fuqua said. “Then the town would be completely

unprotected.”According to Town Manager Steen Patch, the adult

entertainment issue arose late last year, when a coup le of inquiries

were made concerning the town’s laws. The Zoning Board realized there

are no laws currently on the books, and immediately formed an ad hoc

committee to write a proposal for a bylaw. The bylaw gives the Zoning

Board of Appeals the power to set hours of operation for any adult

cabarets that would open in town and to grant special permits. The law

also stipulates that persons convicted of rape would be ineligible for a

permit.In addition, in order to protect the safety of children, the

bylaw also requires all owners of adult establishments to screen their

windows and doorways properly, and prohibits the advertising of wares in

any place where a minor could view the display.Furthermore, the bylaw

specifies that plantings providing at least 90 percent opacity must

screen rear and side property lines of adult establishments from

adjacent properties by.Fuqua said although the bylaw does not eliminate

the possibility of a strip bar opening, she is glad that adult

entertainment will be limited and controlled.”If someone wanted to set

up an adult cabaret with nude dancing, it could be done in many parts of

the town, including Spring Street,” she said. “This bylaw will put very

strict regulations on these activities.”Fuqua said there is a threat of

adult entertainment establishments coming into Williamstown, as they are

appearing in other similar towns.She cited Rutland, Vt., as an example.

“Rutland exemplifies the threats of use. Crime, prostitution — all that

happened in Rutland.”However, residents expressed disapproval of adult

entainment. Rev. Arnold Thomas of the First Congregational Church

disagrees with the bylaw revisions. “I am opposed to live entertainment

and cinemas,” he said.Thomas said this type of presentation of men and

women is exploitative and doesn’t convey a quality appreciation of human

sexuality and human relationships.”I realize this is an issue involving

free speech,” Thomas said. “But I think we’re looking at the quality of

life in this town. We have to look at what sort of quality of

understanding and appreciation we have for human sexuality and human

beings.”According to the April 6, 1997 edition of the Berkshire Eagle,

every church in Williamstown has circulated petitions opposing adult

entertainment activities to the Zoning Board. The petitions claim such

businesses would increase criminal activity and incidents of sexual

harassment.Fuqua said Williamstown has taken the lead in regard to adult

entertainment restrictions; if the bylaw is passed, Williamstown will be

the first community in the county to adopt regulations concerning adult

entertainment.Fuqua said the bylaw will come up for a vote at the town

meeting on May 20.