Liberty Twp. to permanently ban sexual encounter businesses

Swingers clubs won’t be opening in Butler County’s two largest townships — ever.

Liberty Twp. trustees this week extended a nine-month moratorium on sexual encounter establishments until March, at which time they are expected to ban the businesses altogether.

The township issued a moratorium last December after a swingers club attempted to open in neighboring West Chester Twp.

Last week, West Chester trustees agreed to extend the ban until year's end. The ban was placed on sex businesses last November after the Champagne Club, a swingers establishment, proposed coming to the township. The club was set to open on Harwood Court, near a Fairfield day care center, which sparked concern in the community.

The U.S. Supreme Court declared that sexually oriented businesses are afforded certain free speech rights under the First Amendment, but governments are still able to impose some restrictions. Sex businesses that involve contact do not have the same constitutional protections.

One of West Chester's zoning attorneys Austin Musser told the trustees they will need to revise both their zoning resolution — which regulates where sexually oriented businesses can be located and the license resolution that governs operations. He said the revisions will allow the township to outright ban swingers clubs.

“The Ohio Revised Code lists a couple of a number of different types of sexually oriented businesses, two of them are sexual encounter centers and sexual encounter establishments,” Musser said. “Those two generally have a component of touching that’s involved in the establishment and those are going to be prohibited altogether.”

Liberty Twp. Trustee Board President Tom Farrell told the Journal-News they share the same law firm with West Chester so they are going to follow their lead on this issue.

“We obviously have similar legal counsel so once they’re done we will know what we can and cannot do and then we can put code in place to protect us against sexual encounter businesses,” Farrell said. “So until them we’re going to keep the moratorium in place.”

A moratorium, or temporary ban, is not a tool that is widely used by most jurisdictions in Butler County. West Chester has used it the most at five, establishing moratoriums on sexual encounter establishments, drug treatment facilities, parking commercial vehicles in residential neighborhoods, wearing costumes to promote a business — like Lady Liberty you see at tax time — and Internet cafes.

Liberty comes in second with three, the pending medical marijuana moratorium the trustees have agreed to establish, the sexual encounter businesses and Internet cafes.

Several years ago when the state took aim at Internet cafes, labeling them illegal gambling dens, many jurisdictions around the state — many around here just banned them outright — put moratoriums on because the state was taking too long to pass legislation. The city of Fairfield and almost all the other jurisdictions do not employ the tool. Tim Bachman, Fairfield’s Development Services Director, said a moratorium is a pretty drastic measure and he changes their zoning every 18 months or so to make sure they are addressing emerging issues.

“It’s a pretty serious issue when you say absolutely we will not issue any zoning permits or building permits on a particular issue for say a year or 18 months,” he said. “We just have not been in a position that we think our code is that suspect or we’re that concerned about a particular issue.”

West Chester is likely facing a lawsuit over the drug rehab moratorium and they recently settled a lawsuit for $90,000 with the people who wanted to bring a swingers club to the township. Township Administrator Judi Boyko said they don't treat moratoriums lightly either.

“West Chester does not arbitrarily place moratoriums on issues affecting the community,” she said. “Rather, the West Chester board of trustees only enacts a moratorium when a matter arises that requires time to research, review, and potentially act to address any impacts to the public health, safety, and welfare of the citizenry.”

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