PEABODY — Peabody's monthly city council meeting was held on Monday night in the public library, a change of venue to accommodate the crowd who came to learn more about — and voice their opinion on — proposed adult entertainment enterprises.
Terri Tucker, a former Peabody resident who owns property in the city, said she runs an online business that referrals to independent contractors providing escort services. Tucker inquired if escorts would need licenses to operate in Peabody.
City Attorney Rob Lane said no such regulation existed.
"I doubt that this city has ever contemplated such a license," Lane said.
Tucker also asked if she could operate her referral business in Peabody, though it would not have a physical location and the business website is still under construction.
When one person expressed concern about being exposed to activities beyond what would be seen on an innocent date night, Tucker responded by saying her business was comparable to the Backpage website, which provided classified ad services until its seizure by the FBI and other agencies in April.
Michael Stinger, a Peabody resident and a sergeant with the Newton Police Department, commented on Backpage's reputation for being linked with human trafficking, drug sales, biker gang activity and identity theft.
"I know that because I do those investigations daily," Stinger said.
Tucker also inquired on the behalf of unnamed investors about the legalities surrounding adult entertainment enterprises in Peabody such as video stores, nude bars, topless bars or pop shops (a place where women are naked, but no alcohol is served).
In discussing existing regulations, the only pertinent city ordinance noted was one forbidding the promotion of obscenity, but the wording did not specifically prohibit adult entertainment.
"The definition of obscenity is whatever is obscene to everyone, in general," Lane said.
Council Member Jay Gfeller noted the zoning regulations regarding public health and safety were similarly vague.
"The reality is, whatever ordinances we have on the books right now, a business owner doesn't need our permission to buy property (and) put a building on it," Lane said. "...The obscenity laws we have on the books right now are subject to interpretation."
Tucker was advised that she would need to obtain her own legal services to determine whether any enterprise was permissible in Peabody.
"A business that you want to bring in, of course, it needs to be a legal business and it has to be within zoning and ordinance and any other restrictive things that are out there. From what I'm understanding, that burden is on you and your investors," Mayor Larry Larsen said.
Tucker said the investors were looking at starting adult entertainment businesses Peabody because of its location.
"It sits on the highway," Tucker said. "An adult truck stop is not out of the question."
"We don't need money that comes from sources of that sort," said Peabody resident Dinah Richmond. "I can't imagine this town ever being in a position where we needed that money."
Those present in the audience also voiced objections based on the lack of demographic studies done for the demand for adult entertainment in Peabody, such a business' proximity to schools and other places children frequent and potential additional costs for law enforcement.
"I like Peabody PD ... they don't need extra work," Stinger said.
"I've heard a lot of conversations along the lines of how do we get families to move to Peabody and I sure don't see this as the way to do it," Richmond said.
"I understand that the community wants to stay a small-town community and I was simply asking on the behalf of investors," Tucker said. "...I was simply asked to inquire."
Larsen wrapped up the discussion by saying the city would need to do more research into what laws currently applied and what additional regulations may need to be added.
"That's very much why this was — for tonight — in this setting ... so we as a council could gather information we need to know going forward as to where everything stood," Gfeller said.