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Adult shop, city reach compromise over ordinance

Fourth Street Books & Video can stay open for eight more years if its owners build a wall between the store and the Bartlett Park neighborhood behind it.


© St. Petersburg Times, published April 12, 2000

ST. PETERSBURG -- The city government and a pornography shop it was trying to shut down have reached a truce.

Under the agreement, Fourth Street Books & Video may remain open for eight more years at 1427 Fourth St. S. After that, it would have to close or move to another location. In the meantime, it must build a 6-foot wall to shield the business from the Bartlett Park neighborhood behind it.

In return, the shop will drop its attempt to get the city's adult use zoning ordinance declared unconstitutional in federal court. Besides the eight-year expiration date for the variance, the conditions are the ones the mayor's staff recommended last May when it said the City Council should allow the shop to operate.

The ordinance prohibits adult shops from operating within 400 feet of houses, churches, child care facilities, schools or parks. They also may not locate within 750 feet of each other. Shops can receive a variance to the distance requirements if they provide a wall or other "visual separation."

"I think that it is a calculated deal," Winter Park lawyer David Wasserman said of the settlement Tuesday. He represents Fourth Street Books & Video. "That is, both sides had a chance to win everything or lose everything. Both sides were willing to compromise down the middle."

The settlement dictates that each side pay its own legal costs. For city taxpayers, a big risk was that the city would lose the federal case at trial and then be ordered to pay the shop's legal fees.

That happened last year after five adult shops got the court to declare a previous, more stringent version of the law unconstitutional, costing taxpayers $183,000.

The latest case also could have lasted three or four years without the settlement.

"I don't know if it would have gone longer than the other or not," said Assistant City Attorney Ernest Mueller.

If the shop lost the federal case, it could have been shut down immediately.

As it is, the City Council will go through a public hearing to approve the variance at its April 20 meeting. Because it has already accepted the settlement deal, it should also vote to approve the variance.

As indiscreet as the store's pornographic magazines and videos are, the business has a low profile in the neighborhood. It is in a plain storefront with its name lettered on the outside. There is no way to see inside. A sign outside says people under 18 are prohibited.

As much as the business bothered members of the City Council, several neighbors interviewed Tuesday were indifferent to the business.

"As far as I know, it has been a very respectable place," said Carrie Ford Ellis, who lives in an apartment off the alley just south of the business.

"To tell you the truth, I didn't even know it was there until about a year ago," said Lillie Thomas, of 523 14th Ave. S, about a block behind the business. "We don't have any problem with it in here."

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