Officials vexed by tactics of “Family Video” store as X-rated titles create zoning headaches

from – Family Video. These days, the name is uttered sarcastically by municipal officials of several communities who feel the were duped when they learned stores they had welcomed had “adult” videos stocked under the same roof as family-friendly titles.

In the Town of Tonawanda, officials thought they nipped a potential problem in the bud when Family Video presented plans for a store in 2005.

Not only was the Colvin Boulevard site not zoned for adult uses, town officials were assured that X-rated fare wouldn’t be offered there.

And, for a while, it wasn’t. But recent complaints about adult videos in a back room—and Family Video’s alleged refusal to remove them — prompted the town to seek a court injunction barring their rental or sale. Arguments are scheduled for Jan. 15 in State Supreme Court.

“The whole thing was, they misled us,” Councilman John A. Bargnesi Jr. said last week, when he announced the court case had been initiated.

Family Video representatives have declined to comment on the situation.

With plans before several municipalities in Erie and Niagara counties in 2006, the company’s New York State regional director said X-rated movies wouldn’t be offered.

“We will not be carrying them,” Todd L. Bezenah was quoted in a report in The Buffalo News. “[The decision] is made on a community-by-community basis.”

That year, the Amherst Town Board and Zoning Board of Appeals approved a zoning change for a planned store on Eggert Road, based on testimony by company representatives that X-rated videos and materials wouldn’t be found in neighborhood stores.

Amherst lawmakers demanded that Family Video comply with the town code, but that code already was on shaky ground.

Operators of Pandora’s Boxxx, a long-standing adult bookstore on Niagara Falls Boulevard, had filed a lawsuit years earlier, challenging an ordinance that limited adult entertainment businesses to general industrial areas.

The town lost. “We were restrained by the court from enforcing our law because it wasn’t backed up by . . . secondary impact studies,” Town Attorney E. Thomas Jones said last week.

In 2008, the Town Board adopted a new ordinance. It has a provision that limits the amount of inventory and floor space for media stores that carry sexually explicit material.

Like Family Video. As a result, the Eggert Road store has its room. There’s a directional sign on a wall and a sign on the swinging door stating patrons must be 18 to enter.

Elsewhere in Erie County, lawmakers are paying attention. They’re scrutinizing proposals for stores in their communities and stating their objections to adult content.

The City of Buffalo grilled Family Video about its plans for a Hertel Avenue store.

“The site they’ve selected is not zoned for adult businesses, so they can’t carry X-rated videos and would not have the option of applying for an adult use license,” Richard Tobe, the city’s former development, permits and inspections chief, said in a March 2008 interview.

With adult materials and entertainment available elsewhere in the city, it appears the store is in compliance. Though it has a back room, there’s no signage indicating adult videos.

“We have not received any complaints that I am aware of,” said Peter K. Cutler, a spokesman for Mayor Byron W. Brown. “We are glad they are abiding by the agreement.”

And there are no signs of violations in the Town of Orchard Park, where lawmakers built a “no pornographic/adult material” clause into its building permit and site plan approval for the Union Road store.

Any problems reported?

“Absolutely not,” said Town Supervisor Mary Travers Murphy.

“We were very clear in the approval process that that never happen,” Travers Murphy said.

The situation, however, extends beyond Erie and Niagara counties.

“Tell them they should change their name,” said John C. Rossi, corporation counsel in Auburn.

Officials in the Central New York community took the Illinois-based chain to court last year for violating a municipal code that restricts sexually oriented businesses to locations at least 500 feet from residential dwellings.

Yet defining the volume of disputed stock as “substantial or significant” didn’t fit. In Auburn, as elsewhere, adult videos are housed in a small room within the store.

“It would not meet that test, so the matter was withdrawn,” Rossi said.

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