How serious is Horry County Council about cracking down on adult businesses? They had not one, not two, but three lawyers in attendance ready to speak on the issue at Thursday’s meeting of their Infrastructure and Regulation committee. One – lawyer Scott Bergthold of adultbusinesslaw.com – was even flown in from his home office in Chattanooga, Tenn., to help draft the county’s proposed ordinances and brief council members.
In other words, this isn’t simply a fleeting interest for Horry County leaders.
How much of an impact would the changes have? Bergthold said Thursday that none – not a single one – of the adult businesses in unincorporated Horry County would fit the new rules. As a result, after a 90-day grace period when the rules go into effect, every single one of them would have to pull up stakes and move elsewhere. The heart of the rules is the distance requirement that would keep adult businesses – theaters, bookstores, shops and clubs – at least 1,500 feet from a whole slew of sensitive areas.
Bergthold, whose law firm has helped “stringently regulate” adult businesses in dozens of states, told council members Thursday that 1,500 feet is among the longest buffer requirements he’s worked with, but “I believe it’s defensible.”
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First Amendment advocates such as ourselves agree that there’s a place for such expression and such businesses. But that doesn’t mean that they should not be regulated or that they don’t carry with them, as the proposed ordinances put it, “deleterious secondary effects.”
Those can include drugs, prostitution, violence and more, problems that are all too familiar to local police. Horry County Police Chief Saundra Rhodes was at Thursday morning’s meeting and told county attorney Arrigo Carotti afterward that she was interested in making sure she had a “say-so in this.”
The proposed regulations would be welcome for two reasons: First, the current locations of many – especially along U.S. 501 – lend a decidedly seedy feel to the area as visitors drive in. Cleaning up the Strand’s main entrance would be a refreshing change and help make the best first impression possible upon the tourists that our region depends on. (And it’s worth noting that because of doughnut holes in Myrtle Beach city limits, even the adult businesses on U.S. 501 inside “Myrtle Beach” are actually regulated by the county, not the city.)
Secondly, the rules that would require five years of clean criminal records for employees and business owners would be a boon for police, banning, for example, dancers who have been recently convicted of prostitution and making it easier to shut down businesses that have a history of criminal activity.
The very earliest the county’s ordinances could pass, based on the dubious assumption that there are no hiccups or delays along the way, would be toward the end of July. That’s when the real fireworks will likely start. With businesses facing relocation and strict new rules, there’s little doubt that lawsuits will quickly follow. The county is already facing one, from 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. If these ordinances are passed, more will no doubt follow.
“This is going to be resolved in litigation,” said Bergthold on Thursday.
That means more legal costs to be borne by the county, as well as time and energy resources that might have been put to use elsewhere, but the outcome should be worth the effort. We hope other municipalities are paying attention.
Myrtle Beach – which has a 500-foot buffer requirement for adult entertainment establishments – has no current plans to update its ordinances, spokesman Mark Kruea said on Thursday. And North Myrtle Beach doesn’t even have any adult businesses right now, said spokesman Pat Dowling. Atlantic Beach does have some, but as they’re also among their highest taxpayers left, we doubt that the town has a strong interest in ruffling their feathers. If Horry County succeeds, some businesses may be looking for new places to locate, and local cities should be prepared to have discussions of their own on what limits they want to place on such businesses.