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Armed with a Petition, Owner of 1st Amendment Adult Book & Video store Wants to Re-Open

FARMINGDALE, Maine — Will Stuart wants to get his five employees back to work. But he can’t do it without the support of townspeople.

That might be a problem.

Stuart operates the 1st Amendment Adult Book & Video store at 285 Maine Ave., next to the Town Office.

He closed the business June 12 to comply with a town ordinance that regulates sexually oriented businesses. The ordinance was adopted in March 2002 and Stuart was given five years to be in compliance. The bookstore is in violation because it is within 1,000 feet of a residence.

To comply with the new law, Stuart would have to move his store.

Stuart, who has been in business for 15 years, said he submitted a petition to the town with more than 150 signatures asking that the ordinance be amended so his business can be “grandfathered,” or continue to operate without complying with the new ordinance.

“The governor wants to make jobs and then there’s those who want to shut them down,” Stuart said Tuesday. “My people have families to support. I served my country. I pay my bills and my taxes on time. I want to be grandfathered.”

A public hearing has been scheduled for 7 p.m. Aug. 15 at the Hall-Dale High School theater to discuss Stuart’s petition.

“I’ve got an impeccable background. I’m a good citizen — they’ll tell you that at town hall — and I run a good operation,” he said. “There’s nothing seedy about it. It’s legitimate and up front. There’s no neon lights. It’s simply an adult bookstore.”

Stuart, who has lived in Farmingdale for 23 years, was given a five-year grace period because he had been at that location more than 10 years when the ordinance passed. Officials considered Stuart’s investment in the business and the burden to relocate when granting him the grace period.

Residents enacted the ordinance after a second adult bookstore — 1st Choice Adult Book & Video — moved down the street from 1st Amendment.

1st Choice was open less than six months before the ordinance was adopted. The store closed, but not before the case ended up in court and cost the town close to $50,000.

Selectman Eugene Proulx said people in town may not have realized when they passed the ordinance that Stuart eventually would have to shut down.

He said they believe Stuart’s operation should have been grandfathered since he has been in town for so long.

“What people have said to me, now that they have had a chance to think about it and the hype is over, is that we should have given him permission to be there a long time ago,” Proulx said.

Code Enforcement Officer Bob St. Pierre said he inspected 1st Amendment on April 2 to document existing violations to the 2002 ordinance.

He said Stuart had not applied for a sexually oriented business license, which owners of these types of businesses must do each year.

Stuart said he didn’t bother with the license because there was no way his business could be in compliance.

According to the new law, the business does not comply with the 1,000-foot setback from a residence or meet the required 200-foot setback for its driveway entrance. And it didn’t have a 6-foot solid fence along its boundary lines with a residence.

Also, the 12 viewing rooms are in violation, St. Pierre said. The ordinance says they must have at least one side totally open to a public lighted aisle so there is an unobstructed view at all times of anyone occupying the room.

A special town meeting will be held in September to vote on the amendment, and a second referendum question that Stuart said he asked for by mistake.

Initially, he submitted a signed petition asking that the sexually oriented business ordinance be repealed.

“I’m going to suggest a ‘No’ on that one,” he said. “The lawyer who did the paperwork wrote it up to repeal the ordinance. I didn’t realize the wording was wrong until I turned it in. Then it was too late. So I went and did it all over again to grandfather the store, not repeal (the ordinance).”

There is property in Farmingdale available to sexually oriented businesses, officials said, so Stuart could relocate to be in compliance.

Stuart said the land is out on Hallowell-Litchfield Road on the outskirts of town.

But Stuart said he wants to stay where he is and said he is in the process of renovating the bookstore in hopes of reopening.

Stuart said he would choose to close down rather than break any laws or cost the town legal fees.

“The town spent a lot of money fighting that other person,” he added. “They don’t want a bunch of adult businesses in town, and I don’t blame them. The townspeople are great. I mind my business and we get along in harmony.”

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