County proposes limits on sexually oriented businesses

Melissa Crowe By Melissa Crowe

July 16, 2012 at 2:16 a.m.
Updated July 17, 2012 at 2:17 a.m.

Dirty magazines, kinky toys and motels that rent by the hour could see some new rules in Victoria County.

County commissioners revisited a proposed ordinance Monday that affects sexually oriented businesses by regulating location, building design and age restrictions.

County Judge Don Pozzi said the ordinance was brought up several months ago when a movie store in a residential area started selling adult videos.

"It came up from the perspective of those who reside in that area, but it goes much farther and much broader than that," Pozzi said. "Particularly with the growth we're having in the community, we want to make sure that if certain types of businesses are going to operate in this community, they're regulated."

Commissioners are expected to vote Monday on the final draft, which hopes to deter those establishments' reputations for increased crime, downgraded property values, potential for community blight and decreased quality of life.

Under the ordinance, if a business falls under a sexually oriented business classification, it must carry a $500 annual operating license. That fee could increase in the future.

Jim Allison, general counsel for the County Judges & Commissioners Association of Texas, presented the ordinance.

"It's been the subject of a lot of not only discussion, but litigation," Allison said. "The versions we have brought you have been tested in court and have been upheld."

The ordinance separates businesses into three categories: Class 1 offers sexually oriented media or novelty stores; Class 2 includes cabarets, modeling studio or theater; and Class 3 includes sexually oriented motels and theater or arcades.

The businesses have separation requirements from churches, schools, public parks, residential areas and places of public assembly. For existing businesses that are too close to these areas, they have one year to come into compliance.

Furthermore, if a park or residential area, for example, later comes near a sexually oriented business, the business has one year to move, Allison said.

Only unincorporated areas of Victoria County are affected by the regulations, but when sensitive areas are involved, the county can measure from the business to the area, even if that extends into city limits.

Class 1 businesses have to be 1,500 feet from the sensitive use areas. Class 2 and 3 have to be at least 2,500 feet.

"I don't look at it as a moral issue or who believes what, to me it goes beyond that," Pozzi said. "People are adults, they'll decide what they want to do or not do with regard to this type of entertainment, but that doesn't mean we don't have to make it readily available."

Commissioner Clint Ives said he wanted all the businesses to be the maximum distance from any neighborhood, park or other sensitive area. He also said he wants the $500 fee to be doubled.

"I would like to get them as restrictive as we can," Ives said of the ordinance.

He said he only knows of one sexually oriented business within the county that would be affected, and complaints are still coming in. The ordinance was not directed toward that business, he said.

"This is simply an ordinance the court took under proactively to prevent future establishments from setting up shop" in sensitive areas, Ives said.

Another key to the ordinance is how much space products can take in a store.

If a business sells adult magazines or movies that occupy between 10 and 40 percent of the store space - not sales - then it must be separated off from customers who are younger than 18, Allison said.

If those items exceed 40 percent of the store's space, it falls under sexually oriented business requirements and licensing, Allison said.

Carole Luster, who owns a movie shop near the Lakeview subdivision that also sells adult videos, said she felt targeted by the ordinance.

"They thought it was a full of gadgets and gizmos," she said. "It's a small operation, I have between three and six customers a day, it's not the grand opening of the mall."

Luster said her shop is only open four hours a day, and of her movie inventory, about 16 percent is classified as adult, therefore she is not subjected to the ordinance.

She said the months of controversy about sexually oriented businesses has impacted her.

"When I opened here, I never even expected any kind of a reaction," she said. "I'm not doing anything wrong."

She said she needed commissioners to define sexually oriented businesses so she could put the issue to rest.

"They just don't want those big old things like in Houston," Luster said. "They've been making such a stink about this. I just want it to simmer down. The damage has been done."

Also prohibited are hours of operation. Under the ordinance, sexually oriented businesses cannot operate between 2 a.m. and 11 a.m. Monday through Sunday.

The sheriff's office will be responsible for inspecting these businesses to make sure the businesses are not being used for illegal sexual activity, solicitation, drug use or gambling.

Sheriff T. Michael O'Connor said regulating the order would cause a strain on his office.

"The only thing that we're gravely concerned (about) is having an unfunded mandate," O'Connor said. "This is going to be time consuming."

Because commissioners do not have an idea of how many sexually oriented businesses there are within the county, O'Connor said they will not know how time consuming the ordinance could be.

"I would hope that there's not going to be such a mad rush for someone to bring in these establishments," O'Connor said.

Pozzi said he did not anticipate any problems in regulating the order.

"It's not like we're going to expect an influx of any class of these businesses - what's here is here," Pozzi said. "Victoria is getting big enough that we want to protect what we have here, protect our future for our kids and grandkids."

Commissioner Kevin Janak recommended postponing the vote for one week to continue hearing public comments.

"We don't want to overlook anything," he said. "It's not the same Victoria as it once was. Victoria is changing and we have to change with it."



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