RICHLAND COUNTY, SC — Richland County has worked out a deal allowing one, out-of-the-way strip club to remain open — apparently in violation of county zoning laws — if the owner agrees to close a second club along well-traveled Bush River Road.
Five council members confirmed the arrangement Wednesday that would close Heartbreakers but allow Platinum Plus to remain open.
Members said that, had they not agreed to the offer extended by lawyer Tim Rogers, his client was prepared to relocate to Bluff Road, near Williams-Brice Stadium.
That unidentified site would be a legal location, council members said, one they found more objectionable than the spot tucked off Greystone Boulevard where Platinum Plus has operated for years.
“It would not have been in a place the university would’ve been happy with at all,” Councilman Greg Pearce said.
The county’s zoning law, groundbreaking when passed 20 years ago, requires sexually oriented businesses to stay at least 1,000 feet away from churches, homes, schools and parks.
Efforts to reach Rogers were unsuccessful Wednesday.
Some council members said they did not take into account how the settlement will affect the county’s ability to enforce the zoning law against other sexually oriented businesses.
“I’m not so sure we have solved one problem while creating others,” said Councilman Bill Malinowski. He was one of two members voting against the deal after a closed-door meeting last week. Seth Rose was the other.
At last count, there were 12 sexually oriented businesses in unincorporated Richland County, spokeswoman Melinda Edwards said.
None holds a current business license and none meets the zoning law, Edwards said.
She did not have details about the county’s efforts to enforce its zoning law.
What the county has done — or not done — to enforce the law over the years was part of the debate leading to the settlement, Councilman Damon Jeter said. So was a discussion on the legal locations for the businesses, should they be forced to close and move, he said.
The First Amendment right to free speech requires that a local government provide a legal location for sexually oriented clubs, video stores and the like.
“We went back and forth — ‘not in my district,’ ‘why aren’t we enforcing the ordinance?’” Jeter said. “Around and around the mulberry bush, as they say.”
In the end, Councilwoman Joyce Dickerson said, “It was a good compromise” — one that avoided a protracted legal battle, allowed a tax-paying business to keep its doors open, protected neighborhoods and shielded college students.
In 2007, the county revised its business-license law and began cracking down on businesses that didn’t comply with county laws.
Three adult clubs sued: Heartbreakers on Bush River Road, Platinum Plus on Jacob Road and Chastity’s on River Drive.
To avoid a legal battle, the county signed a settlement that said if the businesses didn’t meet a deadline to comply with its zoning law, the county would close their doors. The deadline was July 15, 2011.
“We attempted to find them another place,” Pearce said. “We provided them with all the material, what the rules were — maps and zoning.”
He said Rogers returned to the county, saying his client had purchased a site on Bluff Road.
As part of a revised settlement, Pearce said, there will be a deed restriction placed on the property stating that it will not be developed as a sexually oriented business.
A copy of the agreement was not available Wednesday. Council members who verified the details were Dickerson, Jeter, Pearce, Rose and Paul Livingston.
Acting administrator Tony McDonald said county regulators have held off on enforcement actions while the council decided how to respond to a renewed lawsuit threatened by the two clubs. The status of the third club was unclear.
“Now that that has just occurred, we will be putting together an enforcement and implementation strategy for the settlement that will be, hopefully, completed in the next week or two,” he said.
Rose said he never got complaints about Platinum Plus, but regularly heard from constituents who objected to the location of Heartbreakers, near I-26.
Reach Hinshaw at (803) 771-8641.