Waterville eyes adult entertainment

WATERVILLE — City councilors may soon be faced with deciding if nudity, porn shops, escort services, massage parlors and other forms of adult entertainment should be prohibited downtown.
Councilors and Planning Board members debated the issue Tuesday night at a workshop to discuss proposed changes to the zoning ordinance related to all sorts of activity in the city.
Restricting home occupations in certain residential areas also was a topic for discussion.
Massage therapists licensed by the state would be allowed downtown, if adult entertainment becomes prohibited, officials said. Unlicensed massage parlors and similar businesses already existing there would be protected.
Ave Vinick, president of the Board of Directors for the Waterville Main Street Program, said he is in favor of prohibiting adult entertainment downtown, as it is not in keeping with efforts being made to improve and revitalize the downtown.
But Planning Board Chairman David Geller, who recently voted against recommending prohibition, said he is concerned about piece-meal zoning.
“We should look at this from a complete, holistic viewpoint, not just do one zone at a time,” Geller said.
He also said he thought planners and councilors should not make such a decision for 15,000 or more  Waterville residents  — that they should  be able to vote on it at a referendum.
“This is not a regular, run-of-the-mill issue,” Geller said.
Council Chairman Dana W.  Sennett,  D-Ward 4, agreed with Geller.
“I don’t think we should take a look at just the downtown,” he said. “I think we should take a look at the city as a whole.”
But Planning Board member Erik Thomas said the downtown presents a special case because buildings are connected to each other, and a current massage parlor, Relaxalon,  shares a staircase with people renting apartments above the Bread Box  Cafe.
“Just as much as you have the right to patronize the business you choose, I have the right not to have it forced upon me,” Thomas said.
He added that the issue should be dealt with now instead of when an undesirable business moves downtown.
“At that point, it becomes a lot more heated, when it’s staring you in the face,” Thomas said.
City Manager Michael Roy said he understands that such entertainment can not be excluded from every zone in the city — that it must be allowed somewhere.
 Geller said the market place should determine what businesses should and should not be downtown. He said he thinks people are yelling that the sky is falling and reacting to controversy prompted by a topless coffee shop in Vassalboro.
Planner Marc Chadbourne, who voted at a recent Planning Board meeting to recommend the zone change for downtown, refuted Geller’s claim.
“David, that is absolutely not true,” Chadbourne said. “Do not speak for me...I could care less what they have in Vassalboro. I based my decision on the character of downtown. I have nothing against nudity.”
The issue about home occupations in certain residential  zones  drew considerable discussion. City Planner Ann Beverage said Code Enforcement Officer Garth Collins gets many complaints from residents about people with home occupations putting up signs outside their homes.
If councilors were to vote to prohibit home occupations in certain residential zones, those existing would be protected, she said.
The city does not question occupations that do not advertise with signs and which do not draw a lot of traffic or complaints are not, officials said.

Amy Calder — 861-9247