Sexually oriented businesses would be barred from commercially zoned locations around Columbia – where they are allowed to operate now – to sites that are away from business corridors and homes.
The city’s Planning Commission voted Monday to recommend that City Council adopt the first rewrite since the 1990s of the law that governs zoning of sexually oriented businesses. The 7-0 vote occurred quickly without any discussion by the commissioners who attended the meeting.
If council adopts the recommendations, Taboo Adult Superstore, the only licensed sex shop in Columbia, would be out of compliance with the new law, said Krista Hampton, the city’s director of planning and development.
But that does not mean Taboo would immediately be forced out of business. The city in February allowed Taboo to stay open at its location along Devine Street/Garners Ferry Road corridor until Dec. 31, 2013. Shop owners and the city struck that agreement after City Council attempted to close the controversial store that opened late last year after complying with current zoning laws.
Residents and mainstream businesses, caught off guard by Taboo’s opening, complained. The sex shop would hurt efforts to attract more development and even hinder efforts to keep Fort Jackson viable as the Pentagon considers a new round of base closings, critics said.
The outcry prompted council to ask city staff and the Planning Commission to change the zoning law.
Jeff White, one of the owners of Taboo during the upheaval over its business license, could not be reached Monday night.
But Janet Jordan, president of the Hampton Hills Neighborhood Association and one of Taboo’s most vocal critics, said she likes the proposed changes. “I’m pleased as punch they actually are moving forward (after the business license law was toughened late last year).”
City Council must vote twice before the new requirements would become municipal law. Council is likely to take up the matter at its Sept. 18 zoning public hearing, Hampton said.
The proposed zoning change would limit sex shops to areas zoned “light industrial” rather than “commercial” and would impose tougher restrictions to keep them further away from protected properties. Hampton said light industrial sites dot the city, but a map of those locations was not readily available.
The toughest limitation on locations is that a sexually oriented business would have to be at least 1,250 feet from any elementary or secondary school. The current buffer is 500 feet.
The proposed zoning buffers would be stretched to 900 feet from those structures plus day-care facilities or cemeteries.
Sexually oriented businesses could not locate within 1,000 feet of another such business, but that’s not a change from current law, Hampton said.
The zoning proposal also would be more restrictive than the new business license law, which requires a 700-foot buffer from properties such as homes, churches, schools and parks. Those limitations likely would have to be brought in line with each other.
The proposal also tightens or is more detailed in other kinds of restrictions in would impose, including:
• Defining an adult bookstore or video store as one where at least 30 percent of its merchandise, its revenue or its floor space is dedicated to sexual activities.
• Defining sexual devices and sexual device shops.
• Specifying banned sexual activities.
Other provisions ban the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustment from granting variances of special exceptions to zoning designations. That means that only City Council, which is subject to public pressure, could allow exceptions.
Further, the proposal would stop any existing sex business from expanding by more than 25 percent of its current floor space.
Reach LeBlanc at (803) 771-8664.