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Zoning violation puts adult retail outlet Video Sophisticate at risk

Milwaukee [jsonline.com]- An adult video store that’s operated for 12 years on Milwaukee’s northwest side might soon lose its permit – all because the store owner asked City Hall for permission to replace a sign.

Video Sophisticate, 9110 W. Brown Deer Road, hasn’t generated a lot of police calls, according to city records. And most people who’ve contacted Ald. Robert Puente, whose district includes the store, say Video Sophisticate should be allowed to continue renting and selling videos with titles that will never see the light of day in this newspaper.

But, in a debate that combined the technical aspects of the city’s zoning code with an invocation of God’s will, the Plan Commission took a preliminary step Monday toward shutting down Video Sophisticate.

That decision was applauded – literally – by several store opponents who arrived via chartered school bus at the commission meeting. Many are members of Risen Savior Evangelical Lutheran Church, 9550 W. Brown Deer Road, and opponents invoked both God’s name and the mission of redeveloping the troubled retail landscape near the former Northridge Mall.

The store is “not God pleasing,” said Viola Georgson, a resident of nearby Luther Haven, a retirement community at 8949 N. 97th St.

It’s also not a welcome site in the eyes of prospective businesses that might consider locating in the area, said Mark Krause, whose family owns Krause Funeral Home, 7001 W. Brown Deer Road. Adult video stores, he said, are signs of a neighborhood in decline.

Store owner Tony Dodge said it was unfair to link his store to problems with the failure of retail businesses along W. Brown Deer Road.

“My store didn’t close Northridge Mall,” Dodge said.

Dodge said he’s careful to not allow minors in the store, and said he has had few contacts with police – a claim backed by Puente’s office.

“I’m a good neighbor,” he said.

Dodge’s small group of supporters at the meeting included employee Michael Hill, who identified himself as an ex-felon working to support three children. Dodge, he said, “was the only honorable man to give me a job.”

“Maybe you think it’s wrong,” Hill said about Video Sophisticate’s wares. “But when you come down to it, we only have one judge and jury, and that’s God.”

Puente’s aide, Chris Cwiklinski, told commission members that a majority of the people contacting the alderman’s office were in favor of allowing the store to remain open.

Former Ald. Tom Nardelli, Puente’s predecessor, said he received some complaints about the store after 1997, when Video Sophisticate erected a new sign that specifically identified its products as adult videos. Over the years, in occasionally discussing the store with city officials, no one ever raised the issue of its occupancy permit, Nardelli said.

But the store has been operating in violation of zoning codes – a fact that zoning and building inspection officials uncovered earlier this year. The discovery came after Dodge contacted the city about getting permission to replace a broken display sign at the small strip retail center where Video Sophisticate leases space.

Research revealed that the original zoning for the strip center did not include adult video stores among its permitted uses, Vanessa Koster, assistant city planner, told Plan Commission members. That requires Video Sophisticate to seek formal city approval to operate, she said.

Koster said the department’s recommendation was to ask the Plan Commission to “place on file” a proposed zoning ordinance that would allow Video Sophisticate to stay in business. That action effectively kills zoning permission for the store – which would force it to close.

Commission members, with little discussion, voted unanimously to place the matter on file. It next goes before the Common Council’s Zoning, Neighborhoods and Development Committee, and then the full council.

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