Businesses oppose opening of lingerie modeling studio
A group of merchants is trying to shut down an adult business that police say is moving into their neighborhood of professional offices, small businesses and modest homes.
Velvet Dreams, a lingerie modeling studio at 9747 S.E. Powell Blvd., apparently is opening a second business in the ground-floor office of an apartment building at 2250 E. Burnside Ave., in the Buckman neighborhood.
According to city business records, Velvet Dreams is owned by Lelia Trenee Winnie of North Portland. Although the Tribune has been unable to locate Winnie, Sgt. Mike Stevenson of the Portland Police Bureau's Drugs and Vice Division confirms that she is opening a second shop at the Burnside location.
'That's what we've been told,' Stevenson said.
Portland police and sex-industry insiders say such businesses are frequently fronts for prostitution. However, arrests are rare, they say, because the police bureau has only two vice investigators.
The new studio is across the street from a day-care center and a short distance from the office of a psychologist who treats sex addicts. Nearby business owners think children and people struggling with sex problems should not be exposed to sex workers and their customers.
'It couldn't be in a more inappropriate area,' said one nearby business owner, who did not want to be named.
Neighbors are right to be concerned, said Lt. Cliff Madison, head of the vice division.
'There's always the potential for an impact from these types of businesses, from increased traffic and parking problems to the kind of customers it attracts. Even if the owners say they'll take precautions, some of the people who are attracted to these kinds of businesses are not necessarily the ones you want in a neighborhood,' Madison said.
None of the business owners contacted by the Tribune was willing to be named. They said they had learned that Winnie has a criminal record and fear retaliation.
Oregon court records reveal that Winnie was convicted of misdemeanor assault in 1999 and second-degree assault in 2001. The second conviction was a felony because Winnie used a firearm in the assault. It took place in Marion County.
The city's Bureau of Development Services also is investigating whether the new studio is a legal use of the building. Although the apartment building is zoned for commercial storefront use, no one took out a remodeling permit for what appears to be recent work there.
The apartment building is owned by Equity Builders Realty, a real estate company at 1901 N.E. Broadway. Kurt Chiapuzio, the agent handling the building, said he had to talk with his attorney before making any comment.
Tom Crater, media liaison for the development services bureau, said, 'We have received a complaint there may be a business opening without the proper permits.'
Crater said an inspection could take place later this week.
Legal ground may shift
The dispute is only the latest development in a long-running controversy Ñ whether the city can or should regulate the location of adult businesses.
Until recently, city officials had no option but to allow adult businesses to open anywhere zoned for commercial uses. The Oregon Supreme Court consistently has ruled that nude dancing is protected by the First Amendment, meaning the businesses cannot be singled out for special treatment.
But a recent appellate court ruling may change that. On Oct. 30, the Oregon Court of Appeals ruled that the eastern Oregon city of Nyssa could prohibit nude dancers from getting within 4 feet of customers. In that ruling, the court contradicted the previous rulings by finding that the framers of the Oregon Constitution did not intend to protect nude dancing from regulation.
The ruling has been appealed to the state Supreme Court, which has not yet decided whether to accept the appeal.
City Commissioner Jim Francesconi said he thinks the appeals court ruling may open the door for the city to begin regulating adult businesses. Francesconi has asked the city attorney's office to begin researching the city's options.
Michael Harrison, an aide to Francesconi, said the city needs to wait until the Supreme Court decides whether to accept the appeal before taking action.
'We don't want to adopt an ordinance and then have the Supreme Court knock it down,' he said. 'But if the Supreme Court rejects the appeal, then we can move under the appeals court ruling. And if the court upholds the ruling, then we can move under whatever guidelines it lays down.'