0
Votes

Porn Shop Angers Residents

MVC Late Night Video opens in heart of Centreville.

For years, citizen groups have carefully overseen Centreville's development so it would be done in a tasteful and attractive way that would enhance the area and make people proud to live here.

So it was with amazement that local residents discovered last week that an adult-video store had set up shop right smack in the heart of town — at the Routes 28/29 intersection.

And so potential customers would know just what it had to offer, a banner sign outside the front door advertised "DVDs, toys for lovers, lubes and mag packs." MVC Late Night Video has come to Centreville.

The business is not doing anything wrong or breaking any laws. Because the land it's on is zoned C-8 — a high-density commercial district — it's one of the uses allowed by right in that zoning area. That means it does not need any special permission from Fairfax County to be there.

But just because it's legal doesn't mean people are happy about it. "I think it's totally inappropriate to community standards for Centreville," said Dennis Hogge, who owns property in the nearby Centreville Historic District. "There are five churches, a preschool and a daycare center right behind this new porn shop, along with our Historic District," he said. "This is something you'd expect to find in the back streets of southeast Washington."

Noting that the Historic District is currently undergoing a study to expand its boundaries and add a village green for community functions, he said an adult video/sex-toy store is "totally incompatible" with the wholesome, family-centered image that Centreville's trying to promote there.

The business is in a small building that formerly housed a drive-through bank and is especially visible to Route 29 motorists turning north onto Route 28. The landowner is Abe Babazadeh, who previously tried unsuccessfully to open up a car-sales lot there and later had mattress and newsstand businesses on that spot.

THE PROBLEM with having an adult-oriented business there, said At-Large Planning Commissioner Jim Hart, is that "it's a prominent building on an elevated site. It sets the tone for so much of what's around it." Besides, he added, such businesses "ought not to be next to daycares, schools, churches and a historic district."

Centre View called MVC, requesting that someone in its corporate office speak on the business' behalf and explain why it chose to open its newest store here — especially when another MVC is fairly close by, along Route 50 in Chantilly. MVC did not respond; however, a clerk in the Chantilly store said he expects the Centreville location to offer the same products all MVCs do — DVDs, videos, sex toys and paraphernalia, magazines and condoms.

He also noted that Centreville is MVC's 10th store in Northern Virginia. Besides Chantilly, there are two in Manassas and one each in Woodbridge, Dumfries, Alexandria, Falls Church, Springfield and Vienna.

Sully District Planning Commissioner Ron Koch called it "unfortunate" that the newest MVC stands at the gateway to Centreville, extending a far different welcome to the area than local land planners would have wished. "Especially something in such a visible site," said Koch. "That's not the kind of business we want to have there, but there seems to be nothing we can do because it's in the C-8 district."

JIM KATCHAM, chairman of the West Fairfax County Citizens Association (WFCCA) Land-Use Committee, said it's "not the ideal location for a store like that," but he understands what happened. "Mr. Babazadeh's a businessman with a tenant who'll pay him rent — and his check is as good as anybody else's," he explained. "I'd just hope their signs would be subdued and don't give a laundry list of whatever the store sells."

After the Chantilly MVC store opened, said Katcham, the WFCCA wanted the Board of Supervisors to have a public hearing about uses allowed in the C-8 district, but nothing happened. "If you're a bank and want to put in a drive-through window, you need a special exemption," he said. "But this can just open up as a by-right use. So from a citizen's point of view, it doesn't seem quite equitable."

The Rev. Howard Kempsell of St. John's Episcopal Church, in the Historic District, said a neighboring MVC "doesn't seem consistent with the other uses around it. Maybe the WFCCA or [Sully District Supervisor] Michael Frey will do something to limit the kind of uses that can be in a C-8 district [to guard against a similar situation arising in the future]. These types of businesses tend to attract like businesses, like adult bookstores and massage parlors."

Local architect Bill Robson who, with Hogge, hopes to create a village green and revitalize Centreville's Historic District, was also dismayed. In 1999, Robson researched by-right areas where churches could build in this county and found significant restrictions and red tape.

"Pornographic places get to go in with no zoning review, whereas churches have to go through all these hurdles to be in neighborhoods," he said. "What kind of signal are we sending our citizenry?"

ROBSON SAID he hopes an adult video store isn't a permanent use there and noted that Centreville isn't necessarily composed of the types of people who'd frequent one. "It's a family atmosphere with warm neighborhoods and friendly communities," he said. "So it seems against the grain to drop one of those in the midst of our community."

Robson said the whole zoning ordinance needs to be revamped and rewritten to make it relevant to today. He acknowledged, however, that this subject "brings in morality and decency issues that, for politicians, are hard to get their hands around. It definitely is going to rub a lot of people the wrong way, and it's contrary to how we wanted the Historic District to go."

Both Centreville Preschool Inc. (CPI) and Happy Faces Day Care are on Braddock Road near the video store. Cheryl Repetti, president of CPI's board of directors, personally favors free speech, so she has no objection to adult content in movies.

"But I do have an objection to stores that are specifically focused on these types of movies," she said. And like Kempsell, she's worried because so many young children are in the vicinity. "We recognize people's right to engage in this type of commerce," said Repetti. "But we're concerned about the people it could attract and that it could become an issue in the neighborhood."

Rosen Betchar, who owns Happy Faces, adjacent to MVC, doesn't understand why it took him 2 1/2 years to get everything in place to open a daycare "and, yet, somebody can open a so-called porn shop with no trouble, at all." And with the recent focus on preserving the Historic District, he said allowing "something like this to come in doesn't seem to make any sense. It seems unfair and unjust and taints that Centreville area."

He also fears that people frequenting the MVC might congregate in the Historic District and "push that area in an unrighteous direction." Noting that store is on one of the highest spots in Centreville, Betchar asked, "Is that how we want Centreville represented?"

HOGGE SAID he hopes Frey will "take the lead in cleaning this up — and the sooner, the better. I really think the outcome of this will determine the kind of community we are and the leadership we have."

Frey said the Supervisors have examined this issue, on and off, since the first MVC came to this county in 1996. "And we haven't figured out a way to stop them," he said. "There are issues that, for a lot of reasons, the board has chosen not to address. There are Supreme Court decisions, First Amendment issues, standards and obscenity issues."

If people believe it's obscene, said Frey, they can petition the Commonwealth's Attorney to file obscenity charges. However, he added, "Videos are videos, and it's hard to differentiate based on content. The [county] zoning staff is looking at it, I've talked with the county attorney and they're giving me all the research they've done previously. So right now, this is sort of the nightmare of by-right development."

Unless no one frequents the store and it goes out of business, he said, he doesn't see a way around it. "Obviously, in the long run, the preference would be to see that whole quadrant redeveloped into something that's nice, community-oriented and compatible with the Historic District," said Frey. "But in the interim, it's zoned C-8 and a video store is an allowable use. I'm sure we'll hear more about it, though."