Standing up for their beliefs left standing room only Tuesday when more than 250 people showed up at the municipal building to fight a proposed adult bookstore on Gordon Highway.
The sizable crowd at the Augusta Commission meeting, along with arguments from District Attorney Danny Craig and Sheriff Ronnie Strength, led commissioners to vote unanimously against a special zoning request for Augusta Video X-Mart - a move that was met with a standing ovation from the second-floor courtroom gallery.
An attorney representing the bookstore said he plans to appeal the commission's decision and the city's ordinances regulating adult entertainment establishments.
Earlier this month, the city planning commission voted to recommend approval of the bookstore's zoning request, saying it met all of the requirements of local law, including distance requirements from schools, churches and bus stops.
The store, which proposes to sell sexually explicit books, magazines, videos and novelties, would be on Molly Pond Road, at the intersection of Gordon Highway and Doug Barnard Parkway.
The Augusta Commission overturned the planning commission's recommendation despite the absence of any city ordinance violations. The application was denied based on the "discretion of commissioners," a move that is permitted under local law but usually is challenged in court.
"That discretion is the kiss of death in these kinds of decisions," said Tom Maddox, an Atlanta attorney representing the North Miami Beach, Fla.-based bookstore. "I'm surprised that the commission would be so misinformed."
He said he planned to file two lawsuits, one in federal court and the other in Richmond County Superior Court, by the end of this month.
"In my opinion, it's better to be sued for doing what's right than to make the wrong decision," said Patricia Sanford, a member of the Alleluia Community, an ecumenical group living on faith-based principles. It has been a vocal opponent of the store, organizing a demonstration at the proposed site last week.
Although only a handful of opponents had the opportunity to address commissioners, those who spoke pointed to statistics linking pornography to criminal activity, including sexual assaults and prostitution.
"We are here today because we understand that the decision you are about to make could lead to the destruction of innocent lives," the Rev. Mark Harris, the senior pastor of Curtis Baptist Church, told the commissioners.
After asking rhetorically whether Augusta was a good location for an adult bookstore, the Rev. Harris said: "The answer is no," with the "no" answered in audience unison.
Those who didn't speak signaled their opposition by wearing bright-green stickers, which were handed out at the door by members of Curtis Baptist.
Several commissioners said that although they were compelled to vote with the vocal constituency, they admitted to opening the city up to what could be a lengthy court battle.
"I think we're going to have to be pro-active in what we want to do in this community as it relates to zoning and other issues," Commissioner Willie Mays said. "Obviously, this will not be the final chapter. Court cases happen, and they may not always rule in your favor."
Staff Writer Renee Petrina contributed to this article.
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