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Saturday, August 17, 2019 1:00 am

Sex businesses on county agenda

Vote on zoning limits set amid City Council kerfuffle

ROSA SALTER RODRIGUEZ | The Journal Gazette

Sexually oriented businesses will be restricted to areas zoned general industrial under a measure scheduled for a vote Thursday during the monthly business meeting of the Allen County Plan Commission.

The measure to amend the county's zoning ordinance is different from two ordinances that came before the Fort Wayne City Council on Tuesday and have generated hundreds of calls to council members.

If approved, the county rules would apply only to unincorporated areas of Allen County – not the municipalities of Fort Wayne, Huntertown, Leo-Cedarville, Monroeville, New Haven and Woodburn, Kim Bowman, executive director of the Department of Planning Services, said Friday.

Those communities have their own zoning ordinances and will need to amend them if they want to have the same or similar provisions, she said.

The new Allen County provision, which had its public hearing Thursday, removes sexually oriented businesses as a special use in any zoning classification.

Even in general industrial zones, where such businesses are allowed, they are not permitted to locate within 1,000 feet of a school, residential district or religious institution.

That distance is calculated in “a straight line from the closest part of any structure occupied by the sexually oriented business to the closest property line” of the school, residential district or religious institution.

Among businesses classified as sexually oriented would be both strip clubs and swingers clubs.

Proposals to regulate those kinds of businesses led to hours of debate at Tuesday's City Council meeting.

The council decided not to ban businesses that allow patrons to view and engage in live sex acts, such as swingers clubs, and to require that strip clubs be licensed and subject to other conditions of operation.

City Council President John Crawford, R-at large, said Friday he and other council members received a large volume of calls, mail and email about the ordinances.

He said he got about 400 before the votes on the swingers club ban and about 100 after. The comments were 9-1 in favor of allowing such clubs, said Crawford, who voted against banning such clubs.

On Tuesday, he said he was not comfortable legislating morality and was unconvinced that the club caused harm. Crawford said there was scant evidence club members were spreading sexually transmitted diseases or increasing crime, including prostitution, as claimed by the ban's proponents.

The City Council on Tuesday also voted to require licensing of any sexually oriented businesses, which would include strip clubs. The ordinance also provides that managers and workers be licensed and set rules for club layout and practices. Those rules include a minimum of 600 square feet for a performance room and an 18-inch-high stage that allows six feet of space between performers and patrons.

Fort Wayne has one known swingers club, the Champagne Club at 2710 Nuttman Ave. During Tuesday's meeting, a representative claimed it has 15,000 members, most from outside Fort Wayne and many from out of state.

The city has about a half-dozen strip clubs.   

Unincorporated Allen County has no known swingers club or any strip clubs, said Robert Eherenman, attorney for the county plan commission.

Fort Wayne has yet to amend its zoning ordinance to regulate sexually oriented businesses, he said.

The county plan commission meeting begins at 1 p.m. Thursday in Room 30 of Citizens Square.

rsalter@jg.net