Kansas Adult Stores Told to Close or Move

Matt O'Conner
WICHITA, Kan. — The Wichita City Council has placed new zoning restrictions on adult businesses that make it impossible for eight of the city’s 15 adult retail stores to continue operating legally. The businesses have two years to find new store space or get out of town altogether.

The new restrictions require shops to be at least 500 feet from schools, churches, day care centers, parks, residential areas, Wichita’s “Old Town” entertainment district and other adult businesses.

Store owners say the ordinance leaves them with virtually no options for relocating within city limits.

“I think it’s fundamentally wrong,” said Charlie O’Hara, a local attorney who has represented a number of Kansas adult businesses in similar disputes. “It’s surprising that elected officials would do something like that to anyone in our city.”

While there has been no official word regarding a legal challenge to the new rules, Mayor Carlos Mayans, chief architect of the zoning change, said he expects one to come soon, and that the city is ready for it.

In fact, Mayans initially wanted to give the stores only one year to deal with the new zoning but compromised with Council members who favored a two-year timetable, which they felt would improve the city’s chances of winning any potential lawsuits.

“The changes that we [made] are changes that have been court tested in other areas and have been found legal,” he said.

But O’Hara said the law is potentially unconstitutional, regardless of the timetable. If and when the city is sued, he said, it could be on the hook for huge relocation costs, legal fees and reimbursement of money lost due to moving time and broken leases.

Several Council members also expressed concern about the possibility of lawsuits.

Two members voted against the ordinance, saying they were worried that the stores might try to lease space in the 21st Street area, where the city is spending tens of millions on redevelopment. They fear that the upscale shopping district may be one of the few areas the city won’t be able to use the ordinance to keep adult stores out of.

Representatives of Operation Southwind, a statewide effort to stamp out adult entertainment, complained that the law doesn’t go far enough. They want a 1,000-foot buffer zone around adult businesses.

Mayans has responded by saying that the city isn’t finished, and more regulations against adult businesses are forthcoming. Wichita will next look into requiring store owners to obtain special licenses.

“This is a starting point,” Mayans said. “It is not the end all.”