West Chester rescinds permit, license for ‘adult nightclub’

Trustees put 9-month hold on ‘sexual encounter establishments’ to study issue further.

The Champagne Club had wanted to open on Harwood Court next month but township officials on Friday rescinded the zoning permit and license to operate the club after receiving additional information on co-owner Eric E. Adams, 43, of Fort Wayne, Ind., via an FBI background check, according to Barb Wilson, the township’s spokeswoman.

According to a notice the township received Nov. 12 and obtained Tuesday by the Journal-News, the Ohio Attorney General’s Office alerted the township that an FBI background check indicates that Adams “may not meet qualifications for licensing or employment.”

Per federal law, that information can only be released to the applicant by completing an FBI Request for Rapsheet form, according to the attorney general’s office.

Wilson said the township rescinded the zoning permit and license because officials approved them without complete information.

Township trustees on Tuesday night enacted a nine-month moratorium on the licensing and permitting of “sexual encounter establishments” and similar uses in the township.

The move comes a week after news of the club’s opening sparked concern from the owner of a nearby day care center in Fairfield and its clients.

Melissa Warren, co-owner of the club, then sought to clarify “misconceptions” about the club, saying the it would be unnoticeable to anyone passing by, be open after the day care and other business had already closed for the day and would not engage in advertising of any sort, including flyers or posted signs.

That wasn’t enough to assuage the fears of the standing-room-only crowd that turned out to Tuesday night’s board of trustees meeting to say they believe sexually-oriented businesses have no business being in West Chester Twp.

Jeffrey Hayes said one of the reasons he moved to the township 25 years ago was because of its “high community standards.”

Hayes told trustees he wants them to maintain those standards.

“It’s well evidenced that when these kind of businesses are allowed to come into a community property values decline and there is urban blight that will result from those kind of businesses entering the community,” Hayes said.

If such businesses are allowed to operate, the zoning code should be updated to make the distance between sexually-oriented businesses and schools “as large as possible,” Hayes said.

Lisa Shoop, a lifelong township resident of nearly 50 years, said she was “adamantly opposed” to allowing such businesses into the community.

“I look what it’s done to Monroe where they’ve let the Hustler store come in, the strip clubs, and there’s a seediness about the community now that wasn’t there 20 years ago,” she said.

West Chester Administrator Judi Boyko said the township cannot place an outright ban on sexually-oriented businesses because they are afforded, according the U.S. Supreme Court, certain First Amendment rights.

What the township can and did do in 2011 was adopt its “sexually-oriented business” licensing resolution consistent with the findings of the court, which ruled such businesses could not be regulated for content, but could have their location regulated based on the potential community impact.

“The moratorium tonight will allow the board of trustees time to study possible changes to West Chester’s existing zoning resolution and licensing resolution governing sexually-oriented businesses,” said Trustee Mark Welch.

During that time, consideration of any sexual encounter business application will be delayed, said Trustee George Lang.

“Authorizing this moratorium and declaring it effective immediately is in the best interests of the community and protects the health, safety and general welfare of our residents and of the businesses in our community,” Lang said.

He said when he reviewed the code in 2011, he consulted with Phil Burress of Citizens for Community Values, the Ohio affiliate of the Family Research Council.

“We have it about as restricted as we can possibly can get it for sexually-oriented business,” he said. “Sexual encounter establishments is something new to us that we have not considered before.”

Township officials said they recently discovered the law governing sexually-oriented businesses may have developed a distinction between “sexual encounter establishments” and other sorts of sexually-oriented businesses.

That distinction identified “sexual encounter establishments” may not be entitled the same First Amendment protection as other sexually-oriented businesses, and could be prohibited altogether.

“If sexual encounter establishments are not entitled to the same First Amendment protection as other sexually-oriented businesses, the township will likely want to update its zoning resolution and its resolution governing the licensing of sexual encounter establishments,” Boyko said.

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