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Dedham, Massachusetts Designates Adult Zone- “Reluctantly”

Dedham, Massachusetts – from – Dedham officials aren’t enthusiastic about rezoning the upscale Legacy Place shopping complex — and some property across Route 1 on Stergis Way — to allow strip clubs and stores selling sex toys and X-rated materials.

But they’re asking a Special Town Meeting to do just that next month, in hopes that the designation of an “adult use overlay district’’ will protect Dedham from those kinds of businesses.

In fact, the town really doesn’t have a choice, said Sarah MacDonald, chairwoman of the Board of Selectmen and of the committee that’s been reviewing the issue.

Numerous court cases have ruled that “adult’’ businesses are protected by free speech rights and can locate anywhere other businesses are allowed — unless they are controlled by specific zoning rules, she explained.

“The gut reaction of a lot of people is that an adult district is a terrible idea,’’ MacDonald said. “But once we explain that if we don’t allow [adult businesses] in a particular place we open up the whole town to this use, most people understand.

“It’s definitely a tough issue,’’ she added. “You don’t want to see these kinds of businesses flooding the town, but we do have a constitutional responsibility to protect the freedoms we all enjoy.’’

Other towns have faced the same dilemma of creating a zone that allows something they would rather discourage.

Milton, for example, put its “adult use overlay district’’ in one office building at 2 Granite Ave., a relatively isolated spot far from any houses, said the planning director, William Clark. The town has no adult businesses, he said.

Hingham’s adult zone is in an industrial park at the far edge of town bounded by Weymouth and Rockland.

Stoughton — which is home to Alex’s strip club and made headlines in the 1980s when Save our Stoughton picketed an adult bookstore in town — allows adult businesses as long as they are 750 feet away from each other, schools, churches, playgrounds, or day-care centers.

“The important thing is there has to be somewhere in town that the use can be,’’ said Timothy Reardon, a senior planner with the Metropolitan Area Planning Council. “You can’t do a geographic trick so that there’s nowhere in town that it’s allowed.’’

Dedham was forced to confront the issue two years ago, when a lawsuit brought by Dedham’s only adult shop revealed a potential problem with the town’s zoning rules, officials said.

The settlement overruled a town decision and allowed “Amazing’’ — a book and video shop with a website that warns it “features adult content that may be offensive for some people’’ — to move from the front to the back of its building.

The case pointed out that no Dedham roads led to the “adult use overlay district,’’ which was created 20 years ago on the border of Canton and Boston. That raised the possibility that the zone could be successfully challenged in court, according to the town’s attorneys.

Town Meeting quickly approved a new site for an “adult’’ district, off Allied Drive on the Westwood line. But an outcry from neighbors in both towns, and a ruling from the state attorney general that Westwood wasn’t properly notified, led to the search for yet another site.

MacDonald said the latest proposal should satisfy most people. The land isn’t close to homes, schools, or places of worship, she said.

And, perhaps most important, the landowners are unlikely to rent to an adult business, she said. “There’s no explicit deal that they won’t allow’’ a business of that type, MacDonald said. “But we looked at their history and we asked questions.

“We asked [Legacy Place owners], ‘Do you allow adult uses anywhere around the country [in your properties]?’ and they said no. We asked about their occupancy rate, which is high, which we interpreted to mean they aren’t desperate’’ for tenants, she said.

She said her committee also looked at all the landowners’ “long history of commitment to the town.’’

“We have to allow’’ adult businesses, MacDonald said. “We don’t have to make it easy’’ for them.


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