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Proposal Targets Guarino Shop

NORTHAMPTON, Massachusetts – A proposed ordinance sponsored by Mayor Mary Clare Higgins and two city councilors could foil plans by Capital Video, Inc., owned by Kenny Guarino, to create a 6,000-square-foot adult-theme store on King Street.

Higgins and councilors Marilyn A. Richards and Marianne L. LaBarge are scheduled to present the ordinance at tonight’s council meeting.

It amends existing city zoning laws to limit establishments that sell adult books, videos and other merchandise to 1,000 square feet of display area in all zones except for Highway Business. The designated site of Capital Video’s store, 135 King St., is in a Highway Business zone, but a second part of the ordinance decrees that adult stores with more than 1,000 square feet of display space must be at least 500 feet from any church, day-care center, park, playground, school or residence. Several of those are within 500 feet of 135 King St.

Capital Video, which operates a number of stores throughout New England, sparked protests from residents of the neighborhood and other parts of the city when it announced its plans to create an adult-themed store at 135 King St. earlier this year. The original plan called for private viewing booths where patrons could watch what opponents called pornography. Capital dropped that aspect of the plan under intense local opposition.

A group called Feminist Action Mobilization has been holding weekly protests in front of the former Kia dealership site decrying what they call pornography.

LaBarge and Richards submitted two other ordinances at the Aug. 31 council meeting that would regulate signs for adult-themed stores and give the Planning Board the authority to set operating hours, but up until now the city had been helpless to keep Capital Video from opening.

Higgins said yesterday that, like many people in the city, she is uncomfortable having such a large adult-themed store at that location. On the other hand, she said, the city has to respect free speech rights.

“We tried to figure out an approach that deals with both those concerns,” she said.

Higgins noted that the ordinance, if passed, does not preclude Capital from opening their store on King Street but simply limits its size. Several other stores in Northampton, including Oh My, Pride & Joy, and Gazebo, sell adult videos and other merchandise, but all have display areas for these products of less than 1,000 square feet. Merchandise that is not deemed adult material is not counted in the display area equation.

Although Capital Video has already filed its application and the latest ordinance has not been approved by the City Council, Planning Director Wayne M. Feiden said adult-themed businesses are not grandfathered under state law.

“Could they alter the project?” he asked. “It depends on what they want to do.”

Anthony E. Nota, the property manager for Capital Video, could not be immediately reached for comment.

Higgins said she is confident the ordinance would survive a legal challenge. The council will not vote on the matter tonight but refer it to the Ordinance Committee. Feiden said the Planning Board and the Economic Development, Housing and Land Use Committee will probably discuss it as well before it returns to the council for a vote.

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