Appellate Court Rules in Favor of Adult Bookstore

Jeff Berg
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of an adult bookstore on Friday, finding that Grand Rapid city zoning ordinances meant to restrict adult businesses are unconstitutional.

The court ruled that the city ordinances, which were intended to restrict establishments “with a segment or section devoted to” adult materials, effectively limited the possible locations that the Velvet Touch bookstore could operate at to around six within the city, or roughly 0.2 percent of the city’s commercially useable land.

Drawing a comparison between similar laws in large cities that were designed to limit the secondary effects of adult businesses by making sure they were spread throughout the city instead of being concentrated in one area, the court found that the same type of laws that might be constitutionally acceptable in big cities acted to chill speech in small towns.

“When a valid constitutional ordinance from a city the size of Detroit is applied to these facts in a city the size of Grand Rapids, the unconstitutional result of severely limiting the number of these adult establishment rather than controlling their effects through dispersal occurs,” the court ruled.

The court also found that the language used in the ordinance was too broad.

“The ordinance as interpreted by the state court encompasses multiple establishments which would never be defined as adult bookstores in everyday English, such as Walden’s or Borders which carry ‘a section or segment’ of adult reading material,” the court ruled.

The appellate court’s ruling may bring to an end the four-year battle that Velvet Touch and its owner, Executive Arts Studio Inc., has fought with the city of Grand Rapids and its city planning department.

The store originally requested a zoning variance in 2000 and presented evidence to the city that only three percent of its inventory described, depicted or related to “specific sexual activities” or “specified anatomical areas.”

What followed was a complicated legal battle fought in both city planning hearings and federal court. The Velvet Touch also removed all magazines from its store that caused it to be classified as an adult bookstore, at one point, but the city quickly amended its ordinance to make sure it was still covered.

The case is Executive Arts Studio, Inc., vs. City of Grand Rapids, No. 02-2183.