Taboo v. city of columbia

Federal court hearing set in dispute between Columbia and city’s only sex shop

nophillips@thestate.comJanuary 2, 2014 

Taboo sex shop on Devine Street.

C. ALUKA BERRY — Buy Photo

The doors of Columbia’s only X-rated store remain open as its owners and the city prepare for a legal battle in federal court.

A hearing has been set for 9:30 a.m., Jan. 10 in U.S. District Court in Columbia after the business owner, Jeffrey White, filed a lawsuit late last month asking the court to order the city to issue a 2014 business license. The lawsuit accuses the city of violating White’s civil rights by using arbitrary and shifting tactics to force his business to close.

Jeanne Brooker, a city staff attorney, filed a response Dec. 30 opposing Taboo’s claims. In the response, Brooker wrote that Taboo’s case had no legal merit and the business owner had not shown there was a constitutional violation. The business owner had time to find another location and the opportunity to show financial hardship, thereby earning an extension on its license, the response said.

“...Taboo’s claimed emergency is self-created,” Brooker wrote.

The city had ordered Taboo to close before midnight Dec. 31, but Taboo asked the court for a restraining order that would allow it to remain open while the case is pending.

While a hearing on the restraining order has not been held, the city chose to allow the store to remain open. The store’s open sign and bright lights were on Thursday afternoon.

Taboo, at 4716 Devine St., has been a sore spot for city officials since it opened in December 2011. Since then, Whole Foods and other retailers have located along the same stretch of road, boosting the area’s profile. And nearby neighborhood residents have complained about a sex shop being located so close to their homes.

The store, which sells sex toys, movies and other adult-oriented merchandise, originally met the city’s zoning and licensing requirements. However, the city changed its sexually-oriented business zoning and licensing requirements within weeks of Taboo’s opening.

That meant Taboo no longer fell within local laws, but the city gave it a two-year grace period and the chance to receive extensions if the owners could prove the move would cause a financial hardship. White applied for an extension, but the request was denied after a public hearing.

In Brooker’s response to the lawsuit, she wrote that the city changed its regulations for sexually oriented businesses because they were out-of-date. The city rewrote its ordinances to make them current with case law and with the city’s latest development, the response said.

The city also maintains there are plenty of options for Taboo’s relocation within the city limits. An affidavit included in the response lists 42 addresses where a sexually oriented business could legally locate.

Reach Phillips at (803) 771-8307.

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