Houston's Anti-Adult Fight Costs City $1.3M

Anne Winter
HOUSTON — City policymakers have spent nearly $1.3 million since 1997 to defend its adult-business zoning ordinance, which has been regularly challenged by business owners as unlawful.

Nelson Hensley, a local lawyer who represents several adult cabarets in the area, told XBIZ that this is the only zoning ordinance in Houston, which he says is the largest metropolitan city in the country with no formal zoning laws, and that this one is solely meant to make it nearly impossible for adult businesses to remain.

The ordinance prohibits adult businesses from opening within 1,500 feet of schools, churches and other community areas, and disallows sexually oriented businesses from operating within 1,000 feet of each other.

Hensley calls using city funds to fight the regular constitutionality lawsuits brought by adult businesses "ridiculous" — in just the past several days, nine adult businesses have filed suit in state courts — and says that city officials' "secondary effects" reasoning is "simply untrue."

The Houston Police Department's vice unit is reportedly planning on "an aggressive enforcement campaign," and could result in 150 possible arrests if business owners don't move.

Hensley said that Mayor Bill White has been very public in his support of the ordinance and that the city will do what is has to in order to protect its ordinance. However, he stressed, adult business owners also will remain prolific in the fight.

"If you're an adult business," Hensley said, "fighting those who wish to silence you is part of what you do as an adult business owner."

Diane Duke, Executive Director of the Free Speech Coalition, applauds these businesses for staying strong.

"The industry owes a debt of thanks to these Houston adult entertainment business owners for filing these lawsuits," Duke told XBIZ. "No one is going to fight the battle for us. It is up to us — the adult entertainment industry — to stand up and say 'no more.'"