WATERVILLE, Me. – If you ask the Planning Board, there's nothing like a little anti-adult vaccination to keep the downtown area "clean."
"You don't want to end up where Vassalboro is, where they're trying to pass things after the fact," Planning Board member Erik Thomas said on May 26. "To me, it's better to be proactive about these things."
Vassalboro is about ten miles down Route 100 from Waterville, and the big news in Kennebec County since New Year's has been the opening, in late February, of the Grand View Topless Coffee Shop in what was formerly the Grand View Motel. But it's got a sign outside that says "Over 18 only," and inside, one warning, "No cameras. No touching. Cash only," so town officials have admitted that it meets the letter of the law.
But reports are that Grand View owner Don Crabtree is thinking of converting the coffee shop into a strip club – and that's what Waterville is worried about.
See, as things currently stand, downtown Waterville has no adult book or video stores, no strip clubs, no escort services (at least, that the city council knows about) and no other "adult entertainment," though there is one massage parlor, Relaxalon, which has been in business for over 15 years – and that too might go the way of all flesh if the Planning Board gets its way.
Seems Thomas and three other Planning Board members sent a recommendation to the City Council on May 18 that they adopt an adult zoning ordinance to keep all adult businesses, except for state-licensed massage therapists, out of the downtown area, though they didn't specify which areas of town such businesses could open. Thomas and fellow Board member Marc Chadbourne claim they got the idea because they'd heard that some downtown business owners had complained that people were coming into their businesses and asking where the massage parlors were.
Planning Board Chair David Geller was the sole opponent of the plan – but only because he thinks there ought to be a public hearing on the issue, and that simply prohibiting adult businesses from the downtown area wouldn't stop them from opening in other nearby areas.
Trouble is, a new ordinance wouldn't solve the problem of the massage parlors; under state law, they'd have to be grandfathered in, though Relaxalon owner Arthur Richard doesn't oppose the ordinance.
"If it doesn't affect me, there's no problem," he said.
Of course, Richard is careful to make sure his masseuses, who ply their trade topless but will strip completely if the money's right, don't stay over the legal line into prostitution.
"I go through girls pretty fast sometimes because there are a lot of places in Augusta that offer a full service," Richard said. "When I advertise for girls I usually try to advertise 'No experience preferred.' They can make decent money without breaking the law."
City Council Chair Dana Sennett is on record in favor of prohibiting adult businesses downtown, but since he wasn't previously aware of the Planning Board's recommendation, he'd like to know its rationale.
"We'd have to find out what's caused this sudden interest in changing the ordinance," he said. "Is it the whim of one or two, or is it the consensus of a large number? Are we reacting to Vassalboro's ordinance or is this a serious problem that we should be looking into?"
First Amendment attorney Dan Silver, who's familiar with the area, isn't surprised that no adult businesses have yet located in Waterville.
"Waterville Valley is a big ski area up there, but I don't think there are enough people up there to be able to have a successful business," he told AVN.
Mayor Paul R. LePage, on the other hand, opposes the Board's recommendation, but only because he thinks it should have originated in the Council. However, he thinks even slightly sexual businesses are distasteful.
"I think eating doughnuts and drinking coffee and watching strippers is repulsive," he said. "That's bad for indigestion. I'm not into that stuff. I don't think Waterville needs that."
However, as things currently stand, Waterville's ordinances are similar to Vassalboro's, in that as long as alcohol isn't being served, nudity in a place of business is legal.
"The Vassalboro topless doughnut shop could open up a branch in the city of Waterville if it wished, under the current zoning," said City Solicitor William Lee.