WEST CHESTER TOWNSHIP, Ohio — Sexual encounter businesses will eventually be banned in West Chester Township, but trustees first have to extend their moratorium while the zoning changes are made.
Trustee board President Mark Welch said the trustees plan to extend the nine-month ban on swingers clubs for a month or two at their regular meeting Tuesday night, the Journal-News reported. The moratorium expires on Aug. 17, and Welch said there is still work to do on revising the zoning code.
The ban was placed on sex businesses last November after the Champagne Club proposed coming to the township. The club was set to open on Harwood Court, near a Fairfield day care center, which sparked concern in the community.
Trustee George Lang said officials needed to make a distinction in the zoning code between sexually oriented businesses like strip clubs — those are protected under the First Amendment — and sexual encounter businesses, like swingers establishments, which can be banned.
“If it was a sexually oriented business, they are perfectly legal, they are constitutionally protected. We have places in our township right now where a sexually oriented business could go and locate, and we could not do anything,” Lang said. “But a sexual encounter business doesn’t fall under the same parameters. It is our desire to ban them altogether.”
The U.S. Supreme Court declared that sexually oriented businesses are afforded certain free speech rights under the First Amendment, but governments are still able to impose some restrictions.
In 2011 the township adopted its “sexually-oriented business” licensing resolution consistent with the findings of the high court, which ruled such businesses could not be regulated for content, but could have their location regulated based on the potential community impact.
Welch explained why places like strip clubs are allowed to exist.
“Sexually oriented is an expression of art. A strip club, a dancer, she’s expressing art in her dance,” he said. “Whereas a sexual encounter business was never considered an expression of art, it was just an encounter.”
In the case of The Champagne Club, the township rescinded the club’s business license and zoning certificate based on an FBI report that suggested one of the owners might not be qualified to operate a sex business. The club owners sued and the two sides settled the case for $61,000 in June. The township’s insurance company picked up the payment — minus the deductible — and the owners promised not to try and locate a sex business in the township again.
Welch said they have been working on zoning changes but need some more time.
“We’re real close to getting it done,” he said. “It won’t be much longer, but we may actually extend just a little bit the moratorium, until we can get these zoning changes ratified.”
Liberty Twp. issued a moratorium on the businesses shortly after West Chester as a pre-emptive strike, and that is due to expire in early September. Trustee Christine Matacic said they are still working on the issue so she couldn’t hazard a guess on what they will ultimately decide.
“It’s just like anything else,” she said. “We wait ‘til we have all the facts.”
Trustee Steve Schramm said his personal preference would be to follow West Chester’s lead.
“My personal opinion is to work on a ban,” he said. “To follow West Chester’s lead … That’s one thing as townships we tend to work together. If one community approaches it first, the rest of us kind of keep an eye on them and take advantage of their expertise.”
The city of Hamilton recently added a definition of the sexual encounter businesses to the zoning code so they are explicitly subject to the same restrictions of other adult business regulations.
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