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Another Missouri Town Fights Family Video

Lee’s Summit, Missouri- At a store named Family Video, you might not expect to find skin flicks in the inventory.

So Lee’s Summit Councilman James Freeman was surprised to learn that such films are likely to be carried at a Family Video store to be built in his neighborhood.

Unanimously and without controversy, the Lee’s Summit City Council approved the store in November. Then, in late March, Blue Springs rejected a proposed Family Video location because the store would have carried X-rated videos. The chain briefly looked at a location in Independence.

After receiving many calls from Lee’s Summit residents who had heard about the Blue Springs debate, Freeman is researching what action, if any, the city can take now.

“I want the purveyors of smut to stay out of my town,” said Freeman. “I won’t vote for a liquor license, and I moved for this to go forward. That just adds to the insult.”

Family Video officials said the store would meet Lee’s Summit’s ordinances and be a good neighbor.

The chain of 342 stores, based in Glenview, Ill., has fought court and local zoning challenges because of its practice of renting adult material.

The company has been embroiled in disputes over the same issues in Michigan, Wisconsin and Rolla, Mo.

In Belleville, Ill., Family Video was convicted and fined $2,000 in 1998 for violating the city’s anti-obscenity laws, kicking off a court fight in which the conviction was tossed out on narrow grounds. The appeals court ordered the case retried, and officials are waiting for a date, said attorney Mike Flynn, who represents Belleville. In O’Fallon, Mo., near St. Louis, the city refused to grant the company zoning but compromised to end a lawsuit when Family Video agreed to leave the adult content out of the inventory.

Independence officials said that Family Video approached their city months ago about a site on Missouri 291, but that would have required a rezoning hearing. Since then, the company has not returned with any proposal.

In Lee’s Summit, Family Video already received a building permit for 301 N.E. Todd George Parkway, on a main thoroughfare that runs through a mostly residential area.

David Carter lives a few blocks away.

Carter opposes the opening of the store and said he was upset that it could slip through the regulatory process.

“It’s an embarrassment that Blue Springs catches it and Lee’s Summit lets it go through,” Carter said. “If nothing more can be done, we will boycott.”

Blue Springs officials said they asked during pre-application meetings whether the store would carry adult materials.

Here and elsewhere, opponents of the operation typically complain that the name “Family Video” is a misnomer.

It implies an environment friendly to children, said Lee’s Summit Councilwoman Tess Hurley. Hurley said that if she had known the store would carry X-rated material, she would have asked for a separate outside entrance to keep that section quarantined from children.

Roger Rubright, regional manager for the chain, said he sometimes gets frustrated at the controversy over a small part of the company’s business.

Rubright said plans are to open the store May 21 in Lee’s Summit, with 3 percent to 4 percent of its videos being adult material. He said those films would be displayed away from other movies in a closed room down a hallway and around a corner, behind a door labeled “adult.”

“It’s a very emotional issue, but it’s also an issue of freedom,” Rubright said. Adult videos, he said “are not something we advertise, but we strongly believe people should have the right to choose.”

Rubright said the company was looking for property elsewhere in the Kansas City area for stores but had nothing under contract. He said the company owns its sites and buildings, provides good upkeep and is a good corporate citizen.

Rubright said that in these fights, no one mentions the company’s policy of providing free children’s videos and free sports and fitness videos to customers daily or the 12,000 holiday turkeys it delivers to families each year or its free rentals to students who get good grades.

“We’re a good company and good people,” he said.

Lee’s Summit’s ordinances permit the marketing of adult films to go up to 40 percent of sales and rentals in a 90-day period. Beyond that, a video store is an “adult business.”

Of 342 Family Video locations, only 12 carry no X-rated materials.

Last month the Blue Springs Planning Commission, by a 6-2 vote, rejected a proposed Family Video store. Store representatives chose not to file an appeal, which would have taken the issue to the City Council.

Commission member Sheila Solon said she disapproved of the X-rated materials, which store representatives said would have accounted for less than 5 percent of the total inventory.

Lee’s Summit’s other store that carries adult material, Priscilla’s, has generated no serious problems, police said.

Bob McKay, director of planning for Lee’s Summit, said that with the store name, city staff had no idea that Family Video’s inventory could include adult-oriented material.

“It didn’t cross our minds,” he said.

 

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