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VIP Sues Berlin, Connecticut

BERLIN, Connecticut — The developer for a proposed Very Intimate Pleasures store filed a federal lawsuit against the town this week, arguing that an ordinance restricting sexually oriented businesses is unconstitutional.

The suit from VIP of Berlin LLC comes after the town blocked its plans to open a shop on the Berlin Turnpike. Dan Silver, the lawyer representing VIP, said the town has violated the Constitution by restricting the location of a First Amendment-protected business when there isn’t proof that it will cause secondary effects such as crime.

The town ordinance prohibits adult businesses from operating within 250 feet of residential property. Very Intimate Pleasures proposes to sell lingerie, oils, sexually explicit DVDs and books and “sex-positive” novelties in the former Huffman Koos furniture store at 717 Berlin Turnpike, which borders a middle-class neighborhood.

Silver said the town’s regulations are based on outdated studies that focused solely on businesses such as adult nightclubs and nude theaters. VIP, Silver contends, is a new kind of “take-out only” store that wasn’t considered when the ordinance was crafted years ago. He also states in the suit that VIP should be considered a “romance shop” rather than a sex shop, because it caters mostly to women and couples “who wish to enhance their love lives,” and not to single men.

The lawsuit filed Monday in federal court names the town and Herman Middlebrooks Jr., the town manager, as defendants. Middlebrooks declined to comment Wednesday. Mayor Adam Salina said he was confident that Berlin’s staff and lawyers have the ability to “defend the town and do what’s best for the citizens in the community.”

Resident Laura Michaud, whose home on Woodruff Circle is within 100 feet of the proposed VIP site, said the litigation comes as no surprise.

“I truly think the court is going to decide because I don’t see either side backing down,” Michaud said.

Silver filed an administrative appeal Wednesday with the town’s zoning appeals board, which rejected a challenge from him during a Nov. 1 meeting that featured pleas from Michaud and other neighbors against the store.

The VIP lawsuit marks the second time Silver has sued the town in recent months. In May, Silver made similar arguments against Berlin for denying a permit to East Hartford businessman Wayne Massa, who wants to run a topless bar from the Infrared Cafe site on New Britain Avenue. One of Silver’s main contentions in that suit, which he maintains with VIP, is that the town’s adult licensing ordinance is not valid because it does not have a proper appeals process.

Silver said the whole matter with VIP may be affected by what happens with Infrared Café. The decision in that case is expected soon in federal court.
 

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