Not in my backyard

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Bay businesses are challenged to make a buck in tough economic times and now they have a new battle on their hands - public opinion over where they can set up shop. CARLY GIBBS reports.

In the genteel streets of Greerton, temperatures are rising.

A steamy war of words has arisen and the hot topic is retailers' rights versus public opposition.

When residents of the Tauranga suburb found out John McCoy was this week moving his Aristocrat Adult Shop from downtown Cameron Rd to suburban Chadwick Rd, some of the good people of Greerton were appalled. Gloria Dickson said it didn't fit with Greerton's "village atmosphere", and Lois O'Brien even said she felt like vomiting.

The problem is that Aristocrat Adult Boutique, as it will be renamed, will be 100m from the 300 impressionable five to 11-year-olds who attend Greerton Village School.

The story is reminiscent of another public outcry, featured in the Bay of Plenty Times in January. On that occasion, the objectors were 108 residents and retailers outraged by the prospect of a liquor store on their Cameron Rd retail patch.

Those objectors said there were already too many licensed premises nearby and having another would increase problems associated with the presence of homeless people and delinquent teenagers. The application is awaiting a hearing before the Liquor Licensing Authority.

But an interesting pattern is forming. It appears the NIMBY factor - the common term for a Not In My Backyard attitude - may be thriving in suburban Tauranga.

Here's another example: in December last year, a court case was needed to decide a dispute between Domain Liquor in Papamoa and members of the public because, again, the liquor store was unwelcome in the neighbourhood. The liquor licensing authority ruled in favour of the liquor store.

It's understandable for people to want to protect what they see as the tone and ideals of their neighbourhood, but what about the rights of retailers?

Is it reasonable to expect retailers to canvass their patch before moving in?

According to the New Zealand Retailers' Association, businesses should, indeed, do their homework.

"I guess it is more about ensuring that the target market and the location match rather than public consultation," CEO John Albertson says.

The association doesn't have guidelines for opening specific types of stores, but will work with new retailers to ensure they've challenged the business model they're proposing. Albertson says each local council will have a set of rules dealing with where business can or cannot set up. Any new business must meet these requirements.

"(But) if there is a significant, negative, public reaction to their plans they may need to think long and hard about the location," he says. "However, at the end of the day, it is their decision. If the owner is satisfied that the area is right for his business, that he has customer support and he meets the council zoning requirements, then he may well decide to go ahead and just get on with it. If residents have an issue then the council is where they should take their concerns," Albertson believes.

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According to one man, who asked not to be named, but complained about Aristocrat Adult Boutique opening their doors in Greerton, the public's opinions should be canvassed even though shop owners would probably disagree.

The man believes Aristocrat Adult Boutique's risque proximity to Greerton Village School, and potential spin-off of anti-social behaviour, is reason enough for the public's opinion to matter.

McCoy says parking and cheaper rent spurred him to leave his current site on Cameron Rd, where he has operated for 15 years. From 2001 to 2003, he ran the XTC adult shop in Greerton and says he had no problems.

He has two grandchildren at Greerton Village School and says he wouldn't set up another shop if he thought children might be at risk.

"It's the best free advertising I could have asked for," he quips of the media publicity surrounding his shop. Public feedback has not deterred him.

Only people over the age of 18 are allowed in the shop, and McCoy says he's a reputable person. From 1968 to 1985 he worked for the New Zealand Police as a senior constable and youth aid officer.

Readers commenting on bayofplentytimes.co.nz had mixed views but many were in support of McCoy.

BB101 from Hairini wrote: "I don't necessarily agree with it, however, good on him for trying to make a profit. At the end of they day, how were children made? Not with a wand and some fairy dust, that's for sure."

But the principal of Greerton Village School, Anne Mackintosh, sees the issue as one that will sizzle for some time yet.

"It is such a contentious issue; it's not like having a shoe shop. I'd like to think in a perfect world we would have been consulted ... It's all very well to say it's R18 and kids won't go in but it might not stop curious kids going in. You might go in for a dare, or whatever.

"We all want to protect kids and keep their innocence as long as possible."

A Greerton shop manager, who spoke on condition she wasn't named, says some customers have been quite "irate" over their racy new neighbours.

"They're really angry and it's quite amazing. They know it's a sex shop and immediately think it's going to bring in a lot of low-lifes and prostitutes on the street; that kind of thing. It's really weird.

"If they're going to build a prison on your doorstep you've got to be informed, or a telecommunications pole, but hey, we don't let them know when another $2 shop is opening up.

"(Yes), it's kind of encroaching on people's rights but don't businesses have rights as well? And landlords have rights to own and rent property. I feel sorry for someone that wants to go into the shop - they'll probably have to pick their moment," she says.

Greerton Village mainstreet manager Victoria Thomas, says Greerton has always been known for its "interesting and diverse" range of retailers.

"It's up to individual landlords to make decisions about the kinds of businesses they lease buildings to. Ultimately, customers will determine the success of this shop," she says.

The chief executive officer of Tauranga's Chamber of Commerce, Max Mason, says McCoy has a right to operate in Greerton but, as a parent, he can empathise with the concerns local residents have. "There seems to be a growing acceptance of adult products in the mainstream, but it's the fringe elements inside and outside that industry that cause concern.

"The same applies with liquor stores locating near schools."

The national director of Family First New Zealand, Bob McCoskrie says councils need to listen to the concerns of families, rather than capitulate to the demands of businesses to operate anywhere anytime.

But, according to Tauranga City Council's group manager of customer services and environmental services, Peter Frawley, location is the main consideration council gives. However, under the city plan, they do not have discretion to consider the type of retail business proposed.

Frawley says if the business is located in the commercial zone then, provided the proposal complies with the permitted activity rules, no resource consent is required for the business activity to take place.

When it comes to liquor stores, applications for stand alone bottle stores to the Tauranga District Licensing Agency are receiving an increased level of public objection, he says.

Frawley says this is due to the review of the Sale of Liquor Act and the Law Commission Review. During 2011, five applications were received for off-licence premises and all received public objections. Three were granted.

Papamoa Neighbourhood Support co-ordinator Lorraine Stevens says when it comes to shops with potential social spin-offs, residents want a say.

Last year's proposed new liquor store in Papamoa irked residents, who said it would be the fifth in a 250m radius.

Domain Liquor got the go-ahead but, because of public opposition, will not be allowed to stay open any later than 10pm.

Thirty-seven objections were received by the council and 26 were received outside the required time-frame.

Papamoa Progressive Association's president, Steve Morris, believes the whole issue of whether residents should be consulted over new shops is complex.

"It really depends on what type of shop it is. Is it something that causes a moral issue, or 'good of society' issue? In cases of public good, choices do need to be made because we (the community) ultimately have to put up with any antisocial behaviour."

In the case of liquor stores, Morris says it's a fact that alcohol causes harm.

"The fact is there are people who can't handle (liquor) and there are people in our society that bash their women; and kids suffer from parents boozing and fagging their money away. Restriction is not a total ban. Restriction is just common sense. I don't think it's a prudish issue, I think it's a health issue."

However, Bryce Wilkinson, director of Capital Economics in Wellington, says there needs to be a good reason for interfering with someone else's freedom of action, in this case the freedom to provide a service to the community.

"To stop that freedom of action harms the promoter and potential customers and benefits the objectors, and vice versa," he told Bay of Plenty Times Weekend.

"Resolving these clashes is really about balancing someone's alleged right to freedom of action, against another's alleged right not to be harmed. It's not about disembodied business rights versus public rights. It's about one person's rights versus another's rights. Just to take offence is not enough.

"People have to live together and get on together for an amicable society and some element of 'live-and-let live' is necessary."

Stephen Franks, of law firm Franks and Ogilvie, says the rights of a business are actually the rights of its customers.

"It will not exist without those who want to use it. Businesses do not and should not, have rights that are greater or lesser than the rights of the people who want their services and work in them, or own them."

Advocacy manager for the Employers and Manufacturers Association (EMA), Bruce Goldsworthy, says the EMA doesn't take a moral stand on what types of businesses should be allowed, or where they operate.

Hayleigh Rutherford, who, along with husband Jason, owns adult shop A Tease on Maunganui Rd, says when they opened their second adult shop in Te Puke three years ago, they faced protestors, media attention and local radio backlash. They began their own petition to show the public the shop was wanted and drew "pages" of signatures in racy support.

They have since shut up shop as they could not renew their lease. Among many things, they sold lingerie, hens' party and stag-do novelties. Rutherford says the popular shop had many admirers.

"It's 2012, it's not what it used to be. Sex is part of life," says Rutherford. "I so think people need to get over it. If you don't like it, don't go in. You'll probably find there are more people for it than against it. They just won't speak up."

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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