Sex industry sets up shop in small towns
The First Amendment’s free speech protection makes banning sexually oriented businesses, such as adult video stores and strip bars, nearly impossible for local governments. In response, many cities are creating sexually oriented business overlay districts, (SOBODs), to control where the clubs and shops can locate.
When the Crazy Horse Saloon, a strip club, began operating in Forest Park, Ga., in the early 1990s, many residents organized a movement to stop it. But, that was impossible, says Mayor Corine Deyton who was a councilmember at the time. “We didn’t have an ordinance to keep them out. It was that simple,” Deyton says. “We consulted with our attorneys, and we just didn’t have the money to fight it. It takes a lot of money to fight [sexually oriented businesses].”
So, the city created an SOBOD along a four-lane state highway lined with shopping centers and restaurants, and a second SOBOD in an isolated part of the city, in case the Crazy Horse Saloon wanted to open another location. However, when the bar’s owners requested a permit to open another club in 2001, city officials, apparently unaware of the existence of the second zone, created a third, 447.4-acre parcel on a service road fronting an interstate and away from residential areas. But, Deyton says, the third zone was too large and too close to churches and the Atlanta State Farmer’s Market, where many families shop. So, in 2006, the city reduced that SOBOD to 347 acres.
In many cities, zoning laws, such as SOBODs, are the first line of defense in regulating sexually oriented businesses, says Eric Kelly, a professor of urban planning at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., in “Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Regulating Sex Businesses,” a report for the Washington-based American Planning Association. Along with designating specific parts of a city where sexually oriented businesses may locate, SOBODs often set separation requirements between the adult businesses and residential or family-oriented areas, such as churches and schools.
Sometimes, SOBODs can be used with other laws to regulate adult businesses. Duncanville, Texas, a Dallas suburb with 38,000 residents, created an SOBOD nearly two decades ago, though no sexually oriented business has yet applied for a permit to operate in the city. However, in 2000, city officials discovered The Cherry Pit, an apparent sex club, operating illegally out of a resident’s home, says City Manager Kent Cagle. “We knew [the club was operating illegally], but proving it was another thing.” So, in 2007, the city passed a new ordinance to augment the SOBOD and ban any business that advertises an opportunity for people to view live sexual acts. Cagle says the new law gave them “extra ammunition” to regulate the Cherry Pit.
Cherry Pit owner Thomas Trulock filed suit in Dallas County Court seeking an injunction to prevent the city from enforcing the ordinance, but the city counter sued. Although the complaint was later dismissed because the court did not have jurisdiction in the case, Cagle says the city is moving forward with its lawsuit to force Trulock to cease business operations. The city also has issued tickets to Trulock for violating the sexually oriented business zoning law and violating the new ordinance.
Some experts had expected adult businesses to decline because of the availability of sexually related Web sites on the Internet, Kelly says, but actually the businesses are expanding into smaller communities that have no existing regulations and are slow to pass them. “They often don’t adopt them until after the first business comes in,” Kelly says. By then, he says, it may be too late.