ISLE OF WIGHT, Va. — It will be easier for brick-and-mortar adult entertainment venues and retailers to open up shop in the Virginia county of Isle of Wight.
Up until now, adult entertainment businesses were unable to exist within a mile of schools, churches and residential areas — making it virtually blocked for gentlemens clubs and sex toy and novelty stores.
Now the buffer zone is 2,500 feet from those locations, after the county made amendments to its zoning ordinance this month.
The move to narrow the buffer is partly due to county planning official Richard Rudnicki who, in October, told the Board of Supervisors that current zoning wasn’t OK and that the county could face lawsuits from adult entrepreneurs who were effectively banned from locating within county limits.
"The intent is not to exclude them," Rudnicki told supervisors, according to local news reports. "The reality is, I believe it does and that is illegal."
In October, Rudnicki presented a map of the county, which has a population of 35,000, covered with large red circles, indicating the zones where adult entertainment businesses are not allowed because of zoning restrictions. Most of the map was covered in red.
Industry attorney Lawrence Walters of Walters Law Group said that adult entertainment businesses must be afforded a reasonable opportunity to open and operate under the First Amendment.
“While local governments are allowed to restrict operation to certain areas, those zoning restrictions must not result in an effective ‘zone out’ for adult business,” Walters told XBIZ. “Based on the planning official’s comments, the existing distance restrictions resulted in a very small amount of property where adult businesses could legally operate. That kind of zoning scheme could have been legally challenged based on the county’s failure to provide sufficient ‘alternative avenues’ for sexually explicit speech.
“I’ve been involved in several cases where local governments have loosened existing restrictions on adult businesses once they are educated regarding the potential constitutional defects in licensing or zoning ordinances,” Walters said. “This is a wise move for all parties, and potentially saves the cities and counties substantial money in defending lawsuits and compensating businesses that are prevented from opening under unconstitutional zoning laws.
“However, some jurisdictions have to learn the hard way — at the expense of taxpayers."
Isle of Wight’s new amendments to its zoning ordinance also affect tattoo parlors, which previously had been lumped in as adult entertainment businesses and were subject to the same rules.