CAPITOL HILL Saipan — Citing the sluggish economy authorities said they would carefully weigh the financial costs of requiring adult establishment owners to move away from villages and tourist areas. Officials said there are concerns that businesses could instead just fold up if forced to relocate without due consideration on investments.

This developed following submission by the Northern Mariana Islands Zoning Board on Jan. 11 to the Saipan and Northern Mariana Islands Legislative Delegation of draft legislation that would pave the way for the relocation of adult establishments to a still-to-be-determined site on the island.

Sen. Pedro “Pete” P. Reyes vice president of the 15th NMI Senate and chairman of the delegation; told the Journal that while he does not object to the local administration’s policy of relocating adult establishments concerns about the timeframe within which they would be required to move out as well as its financial impact should be considered.

“My only concern is whether or not the zoning board took into consideration the financial impact of the relocation to those who have been in their present sites for a long time. The zoning board would be giving them specific time. I’m not sure whether that would be sufficient ” Reyes said.

“Right now is not the proper time for anyone to be creating problems to businesses. We need to be careful about how we address this. I agree completely that we need to provide for zoning of adult establishments. But I want to be sure that businesses are not adversely affected ” he said.

Henry S. Hofschneider chairman of the NMI Zoning Board and special assistant to John S. Del Rosario secretary of the NMI Department of Public Lands; told the Journal in a separate interview that the financial impact would be reviewed in the “second phase” of the relocation project which is after the legislation is been enacted.

“If we were to do a financial impact review that would be in the second phase. The legislation that we had submitted is just a working tool for us to do site evaluations then present a report to the public ” Hofschneider said. “If the legislation is enacted that would allow the Zoning Board to identify sites do a review and come out with a proposed site ” he added.

Hofschneider said financial costs of relocation would be considered. “We don’t want to create a situation where it becomes very difficult for businesses to relocate so much so that they’d rather close shop and move out ” he said.

Following public hearings held in September and October that led to the drafting of the legislation Hofschneider said the zoning board has received proposals on where to relocate the adult establishments among them a portion of Marpi which is north of the island and approximately 10 miles away from main centers like Garapan. 

“The zoning board has not considered any particular area for relocation. People have been saying that we look at north Saipan. These are options. The board may consider these. We are going to look at Saipan as a whole at whatever areas we think would work and present the least hardship for businesses to relocate ” Hofschneider said.

There are approximately 100 adult establishments across Saipan according to Hofschneider. He said he has asked the board’s staff to start collecting baseline data about these establishments.

The legislation submitted by the zoning board if enacted would amend the 1993 Saipan Zoning Law to strictly regulate operations of adult establishments and allow for the creation of an “adult business overlay zone ” or “adult business parks.”

By the board’s definition an “overlay zone” would cover a large area allowing adult businesses which would still have to conform to standards for signs and outdoor appearance to spread out among other kinds of businesses.

“Adult business parks ” according to the legislation would strictly be just for adult businesses located away from residences schools and churches. These “parks” would concentrate adult establishments in one or more small areas.

If enacted the board will hold more public hearings to determine if an overlay zone or adult business parks should be established.

New adult businesses would be allowed to operate only within the zone. Existing adult businesses outside the approved zone would be required to relocate there or  cease operations within a year after the zone has been identified and opened unless the board approves an extension.

In his Jan. 11 letter to Gov. Benigno R. Fitial and Reyes about the submission of the legislation Hofschneider said the bulk of comments that the board received during the public hearings was from business owners mostly massage parlors who “protested the implied links between their establishments and prostitution.”

“A key theme in the comments was that existing laws about prostitution and loitering should be fully enforced before instituting new laws ” Hofschneider said in his letter.

While contributing to the local government’s revenue collections concerns were raised on the adverse effects adult establishments pose to the community and the tourism industry.

According to the draft legislation surveys revealed that adult businesses on Saipan present a negative image to tourists and discouraged investors “who view the poor image as a reason that they might not recoup the investment they would otherwise make.” MBJ