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Commission sets limits on adult businesses

A new ordinance bars employee and customer contact and racy advertising, and it imposes a policy of three strikes and you're out.

By JAMES THORNER

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 21, 2001


DADE CITY -- With Tuesday's passage of an ordinance to regulate sexually oriented businesses, Pasco County is becoming hostile territory for businesses such as Suncoast Lingerie Modeling, Lollipops exotic dance club and Paradise Spa.

But county commissioners' unanimous approval of the ordinance is just the first skirmish in what is expected to be a bruising legal battle to remove more than a dozen adult businesses from U.S. 19.

The law approved Tuesday bans employee-customer contact and racy advertising and establishes a three-strikes-and-you're-out policy for violations. A companion ordinance from 1999, which takes effect April 20, requires adult businesses to relocate to industrial areas.

To enforce the pair of laws, Pasco intends to turn loose code enforcement officers and sheriff's deputies. Owners of adult businesses vow to resist attempts to shut them down.

"Either they're going to file suit to stay or we're going to file suit to make them move," said assistant county attorney Sid Kilgore.

Sex industry lawyer Luke Lirot, representing eight of the adult businesses in coastal Pasco, lobbied commissioners to soften their stance. Two college professors, one a psychologist specializing in sex, lent testimony to Lirot's cause.

Attacking the roots of the ordinance -- the claim that adult businesses promote crime, disease and lower property values -- Lirot denied his clients harm the community disproportionately.

Lirot's team rolled out statistics purporting to show that property values actually rise in neighborhoods near adult businesses and that regular bars cause more crime than go-go bars.

During testimony dealing with property values, Commissioner Steve Simon, who teaches real estate for a living, jumped in with a cross-examination.

Simon argued that adult clubs have an "obnoxious, stigmatizing effect" on property sales. Whether the businesses actually attract crime is beside the point if potential home buyers believe it's true, Simon said.

"What would (property values) have gone up if that stigma had not been present?" Simon said.

To which Lirot replied: "People's presumptions and prejudices should not result in legislation that damages my clients."

Some of Lirot's clients -- the four bars on U.S. 19 that feature semiclad dancing girls -- might not feel the weight of the law after all.

The county will offer the bars a chance to appeal the mandatory relocation on the grounds that they don't cause the crime and disease linked to lingerie and massage parlors, Kilgore said.

Other potential loopholes exist as well. Although the prohibition on employee-customer contact outlaws lap dancing, the ordinance is silent about nudity lest the law apply to the county's popular nudist resorts.

What's more, the law doesn't ban touching between employees, a loophole for some lingerie and massage parlors to continue offering sex shows.

Still, passage of the ordinance cheered a small contingent of Hudson neighbors who have tried for years to suppress what they consider a growing red light district.

For Dolores Reger, whose battle against pornography began with the opening of Suncoast Modeling and Lingerie Sales at the entrance to her neighborhood at U.S. 19 and Sea Ranch Drive, the ordinance brought hope.

"Hudson is an unpolished gem," Reger told commissioners before the 5-to-0 vote. "Adult businesses put flaws in my gem."

In other business Tuesday, commissioners instructed the county attorney's office to fight a class-action lawsuit aimed at forcing Florida counties to replace their punch-card voting machines.

County attorney Robert Sumner said the lawsuit is moot since the state Legislature plans on banning punch-card machines anyway.

"It's an attempt by a bunch of attorneys to get a big attorney's fee for nothing," Sumner said.

Pasco's supervisor of elections, Kurt Browning, favors investing $4-million in a computerized touch-scan voting system, although commissioners have yet to agree to the outlay.

Also on Tuesday, commissioners approved rezoning for the Cannon Ranch project, a proposal for 6,700 homes on 2,000 acres south of State Road 52 in San Antonio.

The site, about a mile east of Interstate 75, is targeted for development by Del Webb Corp., best known for building large retirement communities under the Sun City brand.

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