Richland strip club moving near airport

Club moving to Lexington County after legal flap

tflach@thestate.comFebruary 9, 2013 

— Heartbreakers, a high-profile strip club closing as part of a legal settlement with Richland County, says it will reopen across town near the Columbia Metropolitan Airport in Lexington County.

The St. Andrews club this week advertised in an area newspaper its plans to relocate, surprising members of Richland County Council.

The advertisement keeps the new location secret, inviting patrons to come by before March 16 to guess the opening date of the “all new exciting bigger and better than ever ... NEW location.” Employees answering Heartbreakers’ telephone said they didn’t know anything about the new place, either.

But officials in Lexington County said they know where the club is going. Heartbreakers notified them in September 2011 of plans to open at 1995 Old Dunbar Road, an area near the airport where sexually oriented businesses are allowed by county regulations. The last club there was the Southern Gentleman’s Club, officials said.

When Heartbreakers moves near the airport, it will become the second adult business in unincorporated Lexington County, administrator Joe Mergo said by email. The other is an adult store near Batesburg-Leesville.

Efforts Friday to reach Heartbreakers’ owners and their lawyer, Tim Rogers, were unsuccessful.

Lexington County planning director Charlie Compton said he’s been “keeping an eye on” what’s happening in Richland County.

While one club is moving, another has closed after two raids by deputies. A third, which has the same owners as Heartbreakers, has been given a pass in a deal struck by Richland County Council.

In January, Sheriff Leon Lott and Solicitor Dan Johnson raided Crush Nightlife, a longtime strip club on River Drive, after shootings were reported on consecutive weekends. Authorities announced they were looking to shut the club as a nuisance.

And it has been closed since Jan. 26, the date of the second raid. Johnson said he had sent a lettter to Crush’s owners ordering them to stop conducting illegal activity on the property. As long as the club remains closed, there’s no need to continue the civil process to have it deemed a nuisance, the solicitor said.

In 1987, Richland County was among the first in the state to regulate the placement of sexually oriented businesses through land-use zoning laws. The constitutional right to free speech means governments can’t forbid them outright.

Columbia and Lexington County followed with similar regulations to keep adult businesses away from homes, schools, churches and parks.

But Heartbreakers – which has been open at least since September 2001, based on a liquor license issued by the S.C. Department of Revenue – apparently is not in a legal location.

Its lawyer, Tim Rogers, offered to close the club and a lingere shop next door if Richland County Council would allow a second club, Platinum Plus, to remain open. Platinum Plus, on Jacobs Road, near Greystone Boulevard, is not zoned for an adult business, either.

As part of the settlement, Platinum Plus was recognized as “a lawful nonconforming use.”

During private negotiations, Rogers also told council members that his client had purchased property at 1510 Bluff Road that would meet the county’s requirements for a strip club – a site near the University of South Carolina football stadium that some on council felt was too visible to be tolerated as a strip club.

Rogers vowed to put a deed restriction on the Bluff Road property so it cannot ever be used for an adult business.

As it turns out, his client had obtained a land-use permit from Lexington County more than a year earlier.

Officials in Lexington County, meanwhile, had little to say about Heartbreakers’ planned move.

“Is that the type of industry we want?” Lexington Councilman Todd Cullum of Cayce said. But “they have rights and pay taxes like everybody else.”

David Busby, mayor in nearby Pine Ridge, said such clubs “are going to be somewhere” and are not a threat to his quiet community of nearly 2,000 residents.

And Jerry McCormick, mayor of adjoining South Congaree, declined comment “since it’s not in our town.”

The issue has some members of Richland County Council saying it’s time to rein in adult clubs.

Councilman Seth Rose is asking his colleagues to support closing any adult business in violation of the zoning law. He noted that doing so would require the support of law enforcement.

The county’s business services manager, Pam Davis, has said none of the adult businesses in unincorporated areas have the proper licenses and that she doesn’t have a count on adult businesses in Richland County.

Councilman Jim Manning agreed the county should enforce the law, but said the issue is complicated by questions about who is responsible for checking up on the clubs, how to coordinate information among agencies that regulate them and how much it would cost to sort through it all.

“It’s a mess,” he said.

Reporter Noelle Phillips contributed.

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