UNITY — Trying to head undesirables off at the pass, Unity is considering two ordinances to stop sexually oriented businesses before they start.
The adult business and public indecency ordinances will be given a public hearing Monday and will be voted upon at the annual town meeting March 29. The March 10 hearing at the elementary school will begin at 7 p.m.
The ordinances, to regulate X-Rated video stores and to ban the commercial performance of sex acts, were developed by a nine-member committee appointed by the selectmen, not as a reaction to any specific business plans but as a precaution.
“We believe an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” said Selectman Charles Murch, a strong proponent of the measures. “We’ve seen what’s happened in other places, where people come in with these businesses and the town can’t stop it. We want to have something on the books ahead of time.”
Similar ordinances were soundly defeated by voters a year ago, but Murch said that was because town officials failed to get their point across. “We didn’t do a good job of informing the people of what we were trying to do. A lot thought we were trying to control what they can do in their own homes, what books and videos they can have. This doesn’t have anything to do with that, it’s just to give us some control over these businesses. We’re doing a lot more to get information out this time, so I think we have a good chance.”
The adult business ordinance would prohibit the design or use of commercial premises for sexual conduct, specifically by requiring that viewing booths in adult video stores have at least one side open to the store’s main public room. The stated purpose of the ordinance is to protect the health, safety and welfare of the public by banning businesses that could contribute to the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.
The public indecency ordinance would ban commercial performances of sex acts, simulated sex acts and nude dancing. Violators of either ordinance would be subject to a $1,000 fine for a first offense, $1,500 for the second and $2,000 for the third and subsequent offenses.
The head of the ordinance committee, who Murch says “has the spirit and fire to get this done and done right,” is Marilyn Livingstone Koziupa.
Koziupa says the spread of sex shops in other small towns “shows we need some protection. You can’t wait until somebody opens one of these places up and then expect to close it. The time to do something is beforehand.”
One thing the ordinances do not try to do, Koziupa said, “is control what books, magazines and videos people can buy and have in their own homes. We’ve been very careful about the First Amendment, about protecting the right of adults to read and watch what they want. We’ve had these ordinances checked several times by the [Maine Municipal Association], we’ve had four lawyers advising us. We know we’re legal, the only question is whether people want this.”
The answer to that question likely won’t be known until town meeting, Koziupa said. “We’ve had open, public meetings all along, but there hasn’t been much interest at all. What I hear around town is that some say we need this, some say we don’t. We are trying hard to get information out, but right now, I really can’t say what kind of public support we’ve got.”