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Regulating ‘adult’ businesses no simple task

February 24, 2012

Decatur City Attorney Tim Baker

    Members of the Decatur Plan Commission are learning that implementing changes to the city’s zoning regulations to govern adult and sexually-oriented business may be more difficult and time-consuming than first believed.
    The panel met for more than an hour Thursday afternoon to fine-tune recommendations first made public earlier this month surrounding changes to city zoning laws that would restrict where adult and sexually-oriented business may legally open their doors.
    But as Thursday's meeting wore on, more and more questions arose about certain provisions of the new law. Most of the confusion centered around the licensing and application process for adult business owners as outlined in the proposal, and the cost of criminal background checks that will be required for owners and employees of such businesses.
    Decatur City Attorney Tim Baker said licensing fees cannot be "exorbitant," and are intended only to cover administrative costs associated with their issuance. The zoning ordinance as currently written calls for criminal background checks for all adult business owners and employees, but commission members questioned at length the process and cost for obtaining that documentation. It was agreed that more information was needed before any changes are implemented.
    Another public hearing on the proposed zoning changes will be held sometime next month, and current plans call for the measure to be presented to Decatur City Council for its first formal look in late March. Baker said the current timeline would see the city council adopt the measure at its first meeting in April.

    The plan commission earlier this month held a public hearing to address what Baker said was a "general inquiry" concerning Decatur’s existing regulations governing adult businesses." That prompted us to take a look at what, if anything, the city should do,” Baker said.
    Addressing a dozen area residents on hand for the plan commission meeting at the Riverside Center, Baker said that instituting a citywide ban on some or all types of adult and sexually-oriented business is not an option. He said court cases heard in federal courts have ruled that adult businesses, however undesirable they may be in a particular community, nonetheless enjoy the right to freedom of expression.
     The proposed new zoning regulations would allow adult businesses only in portions of the city now zoned for industrial use. Current city zoning laws as written permit adult businesses in B-2 and B-3 business areas, but tougher restrictions written into the proposed amendment would place those locations off-limits to adult and sexually-oriented establishments.
    The amendment, as currently written, would require that sexually-oriented businesses be located at least 1,000 feet from any residence, place of worship, school, hospital, public park, public library or child-care facility. Permits would be required of any such business, and criminal background checks would be performed for each owner and/or applicant. Signs at adult businesses would also be limited, with the proposed ordinance banning rooftop advertising and flashing lights, and limiting advertising signs to 32 square feet.
    Members of the Decatur Plan Commission include chairperson Barb Engle, Bill Karbach, Steve Hakes, Greg Kitson, and city council representatives Matt Dyer, Cam Collier and Charlie Cook. Roger Gage is the city's zoning administrator.

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