Editorial: Richland must stop coddling sex businesses

December 28, 2012 

— WE’RE NOT enamored with a deal Richland County struck to settle a dispute with illegal strip clubs, but it’s hard to argue with officials’ logic, and more importantly, it might have been the best resolution they could get.

But county officials must be careful to ensure that this arrangement meant to address specific clubs doesn’t cause confusion or set a precedent that prompts other outlaw adult locations to seek their own special deals, which could weaken the effort to regulate sexually oriented businesses long term.

Under the recent arrangement, county officials agreed to allow Platinum Plus to stay open — apparently in violation of county zoning laws — in exchange for closing Heartbreakers along Bush River Road. County officials would rather both locations shut down. But County Council members said they were pushed into a corner when attorney Tim Rogers said his client was prepared to relocate to a legal location along Bluff Road near Williams-Brice Stadium.

Council members would rather have Platinum Plus continue operating in its current location, tucked off Greystone Boulevard, than move to a more prominent and objectionable location. A revised settlement calls for a deed restriction to be placed on the Bluff Road property stating it will not be developed as a sexually oriented business.

Richland County has been battling with Platinum Plus, Heartbreakers and one other strip club — Chastity’s — for several years. In 2007, the county revised its business-license law and started cracking down on businesses that were not in compliance; the three clubs sued. Richland officials wanted to avoid a protracted legal battle, so they reached an agreement with the clubs calling for them to close, move or change their businesses. After the businesses didn’t close as agreed by July 15, 2011, the county sought to close them down.

That’s what led to the deal between the county and Platinum Plus. The question now is how the county will address other outlaw clubs, some of which surely will attempt to strike a deal. Ultimately, it’s not to the county’s advantage to cut multiple deals or make special exceptions to rules such as those governing sexually oriented businesses.

Richland’s ordinance regulating sexually oriented businesses worked well for years, until county officials got lax in enforcing it. That allowed a resurgence of the businesses, which tear at the fabric of communities. A county spokeswoman said there are 12 known sexually oriented businesses in unincorporated Richland County; none of them holds a current business license, and none meets the zoning law, which requires the businesses to stay at least 1,000 feet away from churches, homes, schools and parks.

Local governments can’t ban the businesses, but the county has every right — and obligation — to set the standards for what’s acceptable in this community. To that end, Richland County leaders must not fall into the trap of cutting deals rather than aggressively enforcing and defending the county’s rules regulating sexually oriented businesses.

They also must commit to regularly updating those regulations to make sure they remain effective. Otherwise, these noncompliant, nuisance enterprises will spread across the county like kudzu.

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