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Sunland Park adult business under fire

SANTA FE – The fate of the Arcade Video adult bookstore in Sunland Park is now in the hands of the Supreme Court.

Justices heard oral arguments Monday in the city’s attempts to have the bookstore shut down. Attorneys for the city of Sunland Park say the bookstore’s owners violated an agreement with the city when they erected a second sign and when they allowed nude dancing.

Attorneys for Harris News, which owns the bookstore at 3865 Emory Way, across from the State Line Restaurant in Sunland Park, said the city’s ordinance is unconstitutional, and that the sign in question was actually in Texas.

Harris attorney Stephen G. Peters said he suspects the motivation of city officials has to do with the upcoming move of Western Playland from El Paso to Sunland Park, and the city’s desire to become a tourist destination.

“They don’t want the bookstore. That’s why they’re spending tens of thousands of dollars of taxpayer money to get it removed,” he said.

But Mark Dow, representing the city, said there is a residence right next door to the bookstore.

“It’s our duty to defend (the homeowner next door), as well as everyone else, even if we have to spend thousands to do it,” Dow said.

The city and the bookstore reached a 20-year agreement in April 1999, in which city officials agreed to suspend an ordinance restricting the placement of adult bookstores next to a residence. In return, Harris News dropped a lawsuit against the city.

Part of the agreement stipulates the allowed signage. Sunland Park officials claimed the bookstore violated the agreement when it placed a second illuminated sign in the back of a truck. District Judge Robert Robles agreed, and in 2002 ruled that the agreement had been breached, and that the city could shut down the bookstore.

Harris News appealed to the Court of Appeals, which agreed that there had been a breach of the agreement, but ruled that the business remain open.

The city went to the Supreme Court in hopes of restoring Robles’ original decision. Justices heard oral arguments Monday, but did not rule on the case.

Dow said there were “numerous material breaches” of that agreement, including nude dancing at the establishment. Peters said there was dancing for a couple of weeks, but once the city sent the business a letter telling it to stop, they did.

He said the business was never cited by the city.

Michael Milligan, a second attorney for Harris News, said the city’s ordinance was unconstitutional to begin with.

“If you understood the defects in this ordinance, it’s easier to understand the case,” he said.

Dow said that Sunland Park is a home-rule city, with the right to establish its own ordinances.

“If our position is not upheld, then there will be a vacuum in that area, and cities will not be able to enforce their ordinances,” he said.

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