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Controversy over Suncook adult store headed for zoning board

A dispute between Pembroke officials and the owner of a controversial new shop in downtown Suncook appears destined for the town’s zoning board, following an agreement reached yesterday at Merrimack County Superior Court.

The town’s selectmen had filed for a temporary injunction on the store, Trevor’s Toybox, which had been scheduled to open at the beginning of this month. Some residents and officials believe the store plans to sell sexually explicit items in an unauthorized area.

But Judge Robert McNamara and attorneys representing each side agreed yesterday that the injunction was unnecessary because owner Larry Preston is willing to delay opening the shop until a zoning board decision is made regarding its legality.

In a letter submitted to the court, Preston’s attorney, James Raymond, said Preston and a business partner, John Duggan, had not intended to open the store until all the zoning issues were worked out. He also indicated that the items to be offered are not sexual paraphernalia.

“In short, the Town jumped the gun, apparently acting on rumors of an impending opening and on incorrect conclusion about the items to be sold at the store,” Raymond wrote.

But part of the confusion stems from a yet unclear business plan, said Pembroke’s attorney, Walter Mitchell.

“There’s been a lack of definition, and I would imagine that definition will be provided in the (zoning board) appeal,” Mitchell said. “Which would be helpful to everybody.”

Preston, a former Pembroke selectman, said last month he plans to sell adult toys through an online store – some are already available on the store’s website – and leather apparel at the retail location at 145 Main St. Raymond remained vague yesterday as to what the shop would carry, but in his letter to the court he indicated that nothing on display has or would constitute “sexual instruments, devices or paraphernalia.”

Whether the zoning board will agree with that interpretation remains to be seen; a window display at the store featured scantily clad mannequins, one holding a whip and handcuffs. (Since the notice of violation was issued, additional clothes were placed on the mannequins and a shade has been placed over the storefront, Mitchell said). Residents and other business owners have complained that the store will drive away business and detract from the family-centered downtown environment.

Passive adult entertainment is allowed near the Loudon and Concord borders, and in a district by Route 106 with a special zoning exemption.

For the case to reach the zoning board, Preston must submit within 30 days an appeal on the notice of violation he was issued last month by the town’s code enforcement officer, Everett Hodges. Raymond said such an appeal would likely be submitted this week. The earliest the board would hear the case is late May, Hodges said.

Hodges said his decision to issue the notice of violation was based on the contents of the store display, the store’s sign and explicit images found on its website. He would not go into specifics about what he considered to be “sexual paraphernalia.”

Mitchell said yesterday that he and town officials had not realized before filing the injunction that Preston planned to keep the store closed until the zoning board resolved the conflicts surrounding it, a fact that effectively voids the injunction’s purpose.

Raymond said Preston plans to adhere to the town’s zoning ordinance but does not feel he has violated it, and therefore he is prepared to appeal further should the zoning board side with Hodges.

In addition to claims that the business is not in compliance with zoning, Pembroke officials also argue that Preston has not acquired the proper paperwork to convert the storefront from office to retail space. In his materials submitted to the court, Raymond disputed that claim, contending that Preston does not plan to make any changes that should require documents such as a building permit or certificate of occupancy.

(Jeremy Blackman can be reached at 369-3319,
jblackman@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @JBlackmanCM.)

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