An ad-hoc committee studying firmer adult business ordinances voted Thursday to send the ordinances to County Council for approval at its Aug. 13 meeting.
But some attendees warn the restriction fight is far from over and history in other cities, like Daytona Beach, Fla., and the Atlanta area, prove these businesses could be operational for years as challenges are fought in court.
The committee, made mostly of councilmen, voted unanimously to send the zoning and conduct ordinances relating to the county’s 10 adult-themed businesses back to the council for approval.
The zoning ordinance restricts adult-themed businesses, such as gentleman’s clubs, adult video stores and adult bookstores, to one of three zoned areas in the county – highway commercial, limited industrial and heavy industrial. It forces the businesses to be at least 1,500 feet from residential properties, churches, daycares and the like. Currently, Tiffany’s Cabaret on April Gray Lane is the closest to that regulation, as it is 1,490 feet from a residential district. All others are closer, which means this ordinance, if passed with three positive readings by the County Council, would put all adult-themed businesses in Horry County in violation of the new ordinance.
Councilman Marion Foxworth said he fears there are too many restrictions in the zoning ordinance for adult-themed businesses and that 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.
Foxworth said that formula could put the county in “constitutional hot water” if it’s challenged by a business.
“I think that’s a fatal flaw,” he said. “My concern is we’re not creating an ordinance that would allow someone to zone to it. It doesn’t matter what happens in the interim. There’s no way in this ordinance for someone to cite a new location outside of the zoning classification that we don’t zone to anymore and has been around since 1987.”
The conduct ordinance prevents adult-themed businesses from being open between midnight and 6 a.m., which Scott Bergthold, an out-of-state attorney hired by Horry County, said is when the risk of victimization of a crime raises. 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.
Public comment brought some supporters of the ordinance and a man who asked the committee to consider the jobs that this will impact.
“Look at the economic situation of all these businesses involved, and you’re going to make everybody move, change their location and shut down their hours,” said Dick Davis. “There’s a tremendous amount of people who are going to lose their jobs. . . Business is business. Revenue is revenue. Jobs are jobs. And I think it’s very important to consider the amount of jobs that this is impacting in this industry.”
County Auditor Lois Eargle said she remembers the council having the same conversation 21 years ago. She said the only difference is there is a larger presence of adult-themed businesses in the county now.
“I ask you . . . to pass this ordinance,” Eargle said.
Bergthold said there is urgency in getting the ordinances passed, especially since the county is involved in a lawsuit with the owner of The Gold Club Gentleman’s Club, who has been turned down for a license to open what he says will be a new restaurant and bar in Restaurant Row.
“Adopting these ordinances is an immediate need because it addresses claims made against the county,” Bergthold said.
County Attorney Arrigo Carotti said the county needs to have something to enforce, especially if the court rules in favor of The Gold Club.
“Part of this pending litigation is an attack on the constitutionality of our current law,” Carotti said. “If the court strikes down our current law, we have nothing on the books.”
The county will vote on the second reading of the ordinance at its Aug. 13 meeting. A third and final reading and public hearing for the matter is slated for Sept. 3.
Foxworth said he wants to make sure the county is serious about following through with enforcement and the legal battle. He said he hopes the county stays the course, especially at budget time when “several hundred thousands of dollars” were spent on out-of-state attorneys.
“If we adopt this new ordinance and it’s challenged and struck down, we’re in the same boat,” he said.