Communities address sexual encounter establishments

Two Butler County communities have put a temporary hold on anyone looking to set up a swingers club, and a local advocate for family values says any community that doesn’t follow suit is putting itself in danger.

Trustees in West Chester and Liberty townships placed moratoriums on sexual encounter establishments and will work for the next nine months to clarify if such businesses are protected under the same First Amendment rights applied to sexually-oriented businesses.

For West Chester, the moratorium move on Nov. 17 followed an unsuccessful attempt by the two owners of The Champagne Club in Fort Wayne, Ind, to establish a similar club in an industrial area of the township, just over the border and slightly more than 600 feet from a Fairfield day care.

It also was preceded by a standing-room crowd showing up to a board of trustees meeting to rail against such a business coming to town, regardless of existing zoning to prevent such a place from being within 500 feet of day cares, schools, residential properties and other such places in the community.

Enacted on Tuesday, Liberty Twp. trustees’ move was a “proactive” one for the community, which under zoning regulations updated in 2011 and again in 2014 permits sexually-oriented businesses under B-2 zoning, but not in areas under planned unit development or overlay districts, said Trustee Tom Farrell.

“When we redid the code, sexual encounter businesses were not ones that were on our radar,” said Farrell, who previously served on the township’s zoning commission before becoming a trustee. “Because of the issue, we thought it was important to put a moratorium (in place) until we’ve had an opportunity to read the (state ORC) code and make sure that they are specifically listed.”

The moratorium may allow the township to not only expand upon its 200-foot buffer for sexually-oriented businesses, but also put into place a separate section of zoning for sexual encounter establishments “to make sure we can protect abutting neighbors, schools and areas,” he said.

Phil Burress, of West Chester and the president of Citizens for Community Values since 1991, said a study commissioned for a 1986 case in Renton, Wash., showed that sexually oriented businesses lead to increased crime, decreased property values and urban blight.

“The Supreme Court ruled that because of that, you can zone, license and regulate sexually oriented businesses,” Burress said. “We wrote the law in Ohio that passed here in 2007 that shuts down all sexually oriented businesses in Ohio from midnight to 6 a.m. and the dancers at strip bars may not touch the patrons. Missouri followed our lead and they wrote one even stronger than we did.”

Burress said he advocates all communities put an immediate ban on sexual encounter establishments because he says they are illegal.

Despite the owners of Champagne Club telling the Journal-News that their West Chester club would have opened without a sign, without advertising of any kind and without a liquor license, such a business still would have been a danger because members “actually have sex on the property,” Burress said.

“It’s illegal,” he said. “You cannot have a business where you actually have sex. It’s like saying we’re going to open a house of prostitution, but we’re going to put in a sexually-oriented business-zoned area. You can’t do that.”

“Just because it’s a sexually-oriented business doesn’t make it legal,” he said.

Burress said he recommended West Chester retain the services of attorney Scott Bergthold to prevent sexual encounter establishments from ever entering the community.

Bergthold, among scores of other cases in a decades-long career, crafted a law in Phoenix, Ariz., that led to 12 swinger clubs shutting down, Burress said.

“The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which is the most liberal court in the county, based in California, upheld it,” he said. “All 12 of them had to close. So, we understand that if someone was to open up a legal sexually oriented business — a pornography store … or a strip bar, for example — they have to do it in certain areas because we can not only zone, we can license and regulate them.”

Burress said Citizens for Community Values and Bergthold were “heavily involved” in helping craft the Community Defense Act that helped shut down a Monroe strip bar.

“There’s over 100 sexually oriented businesses that have closed since 2007 since we passed (that) in the state of Ohio,” he said.

This isn’t the first time Burress has aided West Chester. He said he previously warned West Chester Twp. that Larry Flynt was looking to establish a Hustler store along Interstate 75.

“They got the zoning in place just in time,” he said.

Burress said communities need to “wake up” and understand that sexual encounter businesses will continue to look for a place to operate.

“They had better pass a moratorium and update their zoning and licensing and regulations,” he said.

Local cities and townships have operated for years with zoning ordinances that put limits on sexually-oriented businesses looking to open in their community.

Fairfield, which passed zoning regulations in 1996 regarding the establishment of sexually oriented businesses, including keeping them 1,000 feet or more away from other sexually oriented businesses, as well as residential-zoned or used property, places of worship, schools, libraries, parks and public playgrounds.

Timothy Bachman, the city’s development services director, said there have been no conditional use applications for sexually oriented businesses issued by the planning commission.

“At this time, the city is not planning on passing a moratorium on sexual encounter businesses as the zoning restrictions are more stringent than West Chester’s regarding distances from residential property, churches, schools, etc.,” Bachman said. “We will continue to monitor the events as they evolve in West Chester and Liberty townships and consider modification if it is determined to be the in the best interest of the city.”

In Hamilton, where the only “adult business” currently operating is a video store on Main Street, such businesses are conditional uses in business and industrial zoned district and must satisfy numerous requirements to be approved as a conditional use, according to city officials.

Such businesses must operate 500 feet or more away from homes and 500 feet or more away from an form of day-care facility, school or teaching facility, including home nursery schools.

“At this time, there’s hasn’t been any discussion about enacting a moratorium on adult businesses applying for a zoning/conditional use permit,” said Adam Helms, the city’s director of resident services. “Adult businesses are properly regulated as conditional uses” in business and industrial zoning districts.”

For Middletown, which enacted a slew of measures dealing with zoning, permits and regulations of sexually-oriented businesses in 2007, “no changes are contemplated at this time,” according to City Manager Doug Adkins. Such business are not allowed within 500 feet of residential property, 1,000 feet from a church, school, hospital, library, public playground or public park.

However, the city is already home to business on Cincinnati-Dayton Road, called Club SinDay, that fits the sexual encounter business mold.

“We will not need a moratorium as Section 805 has worked well for the city over the past eight years,” Adkins said.

The Journal-News was unsuccessful in reaching the owners of Club SinDay and the Champagne Club for comment for this story.

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