Owners of The Gold Club filed a motion Wednesday for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to ask a judge to prevent Horry County from enforcing its two new ordinances pertaining to adult businesses.
RT Entertainment, doing business as The Gold Club, filed the motion in U.S. District Court within 16 hours of the ordinances passing – something adult business owners warned would happen if the county passed a zoning ordinance and conduct ordinance Tuesday night.
In a statement issued Wednesday afternoon, county spokeswoman Lisa Bourcier said, “The county is aware of the filing by the Gold Club for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction and request for an evidentiary hearing, which filing was anticipated, and to which the county’s attorneys will respond in due course.” The cost of defending the ordinances already has been a hot topic.
The county has been billed more than $37,000 already for work provided by Scott Bergthold, an out-of-state attorney specializing in drafting municipal adult ordinances. Part of that and future billings are first sent to the Insurance Reserve Fund for a determination of coverage and provision of a defense, said County Attorney Arrigo Carotti.
The new zoning ordinance restricts adult-themed businesses to one of three zoned areas in the county – highway commercial, limited industrial and heavy industrial. It also forces the businesses to be at least 1,500 feet from residential properties, churches, daycares and the like, which will effectively make every adult business in unincorporated Horry County in violation unless they change their current ways.
A conduct ordinance also passed Tuesday, prevents adult-themed businesses from being open between midnight and 6 a.m. The ordinance also sets stricter rules for businesses with viewing booths and prevents nudity in gentleman’s clubs. It also states semi-nudity is OK if employees are six feet from patrons on a stage that is at least 18 inches high.
The motion filed Wednesday states The Gold Club has, for the past eight years, presented “constitutionally protected, erotic dance performances” at its place of business.
“It has done so with the good faith belief that it was fully in compliance with Horry County’s zoning laws and that is was not an “adult cabaret” as that term previously was defined in the law,” the motion states. “The two challenged laws changed the definition of what constitutes an “adult cabaret,” in an attempt to capture and bring within their scope the entertainment that The Gold Club presents.”
The motion states that as a result of the change in the definition, and the location restrictions that the amendments to the zoning code imposes for those uses, the Gold Club’s continued operation at its present location is threatened.
“It is faced with the choice of changing the content of the performances it presents or moving to a new location,” according to the motion.
The motion says there is “no grace period under the law during which the status quo is maintained, and as a result, its ability to engage in constitutionally protected expression is immediately at risk.”
It also states there is a “substantial question” as to whether there are any locations in the county to which the business can locate.
It’s a question that’s been brought up by Councilman Marion Foxworth, who has called it a “fatal flaw” in the ordinance. Foxworth has worried there are too many restrictions in the zoning ordinance for adult-themed businesses and has said before that it may cause legal action.
Prior to 1987, there was no zoning in Horry County. That year, the county adopted a zoning ordinance with few zoning classifications and it only covered part of the county. In 2001, it was zoned fully and a few years later, the county adopted new, and fewer, zoning classifications. If a property owner has property under the old zoning classifications, it can remain under those classifications. However, if the owner tries to subdivide the property, zoning the land falls under new classifications.
Wednesday’s motion also dissects the conduct ordinance.
“By dint of the change in the zoning code, RT Entertainment cannot obtain a license, and as a result, faces an immediate threat that its speech will be silenced,” according to the motion.
The motion was filed as part of a current lawsuit the company has with Horry County. That suit claims the county wrongfully denied Gold Club owner Mike Rose a license to open a similar club along Restaurant Row where the former Thee Dollhouse was located, near the north end of the Grand Strand. The motion states “if the county ever issues a certificate of zoning clearance to [the owners], the laws will restrict the entertainment that they can present as well, for their location does not satisfy the requirements of the new laws either.”
The motion states The Gold Club is “likely to prevail on their arguments that these two ordinances have serious constitutional flaws. As a consequence, a temporary restraining order is necessary to preserve the status quo that has existed for the past eight years.
“For, in the absence of the injunctive relief plaintiffs seek, The Gold Club will be forced to close its doors and halt the presentation of constitutionally protected dance performances, and be subject to an unconstitutional prior restraint.”
Contact JASON M. RODRIGUEZ at 626-0301 or follow him at Twitter.com/TSN_jrodriguez.