January 27, 2008
Towns Use Zoning to Limit Sex Businesses
By NATE SCHWEBER
AS a woman in a bikini top and sweat pants walked to her car in 30-degree weather from the Stiletto nude-dancing club this month, little more than the weeds and warehouses in the shadow of the Meadowlands Sports Complex were within viewing distance.
Such isolation for a club like Stiletto is exactly what the Borough of Carlstadt wants, as its zoning laws specify that sexually oriented businesses are permitted to operate only in this industrial part of town.
An adult video store on Washington Avenue called Video Extra, with lingerie-clad mannequins in the windows, is a different story. The borough is suing to have that store, which sits next to a shoe shop and across from a popular Italian restaurant, shuttered on the grounds that it is in an area not zoned for that type of business, officials said.
Across the state more than a dozen towns have passed zoning laws to regulate sexually oriented businesses, as Carlstadt has done, according to the New Jersey State League of Municipalities. Like Carlstadt, a Bergen County borough of 6,000, many have faced challenges.
“The attempt to regulate these businesses has gone on for a very long time,” said Deborah M. Kole, a lawyer for the municipalities organization.
It is unconstitutional to completely ban sexually oriented businesses, said William J. Roseman, the Carlstadt mayor, so municipal zoning laws are “the only way we can control adult entertainment establishments from running profligate within our community.” He said the zoning restrictions had been a success, reducing the number of sexually oriented businesses in the borough to two from six and contributing to a decline in the number of people arrested for prostitution and being drunk and disorderly.
Daniel R. Aaronson, a First Amendment lawyer based in West Palm Beach, Fla., who represents the club Hott 22 in a lawsuit against Union Township, said that the zoning laws make it so difficult for sexually oriented businesses to operate that they have the effect of keeping them out of business.
“They target these specific businesses, and that’s unconstitutional,” he said.
Last summer, East Rutherford officials made public plans to zone an industrial area near the Meadowlands for sexually oriented businesses to keep them away from schools, houses of worship and residential neighborhoods. There are no sexually oriented businesses in East Rutherford today, nor do any have imminent plans to move in, but should that change the borough will be ready, Councilman Jeffrey Lahullier said. “If we don’t have that zoning ordinance on the book, we have no power to stop them,” he said.
Bloomingdale, in Passaic County, has taken similar pre-emptive action. The borough, which officials say has no sexually oriented businesses, passed zoning laws like Carlstadt’s last year to control them should they come to town.
“We were just trying to keep ourselves up to date on stuff,” Mayor William R. Steenstra said.
In Cherry Hill, the fight to limit sexually oriented businesses has moved into the realm of state government, where two bills introduced by Assemblywoman Pamela R. Lampitt, whose district includes Cherry Hill, have been heard in committee.
Ms. Lampitt said she introduced the bills, which would require sexually oriented businesses to post security guards to keep out minors and to notify neighborhoods of their intent to move in, after her neighbors in the Barclay Farm area expressed anxiety over an adult bookstore they said was set to open next to the neighborhood.
“It was reactionary, to be honest,” Ms. Lampitt said. “It’s not something that unless a problem arises do we think, ‘What do we need to do to fix things?’ ”
Last year the township created a district in an industrial zone in which sexually oriented businesses could operate, said Dan Keashen, a spokesman for Mayor Bernie Platt. One adult bookstore had operated in town but closed recently, and there is no word on the store that was rumored to be opening near the Barclay Farm neighborhood, officials said.
Jeff Levy, the executive director of the New Jersey Adult Cabaret Association, which represents 180 so-called exotic dancing clubs, said he resented sexually oriented businesses being banished to the corners of towns but agreed that they do not belong near schools or houses of worship.
Permitting exotic dancing clubs in specified districts is preferable to the litigation that often accompanies efforts to open them in other parts of towns, he said.
Adam Orecchio, manager of Stiletto in Carlstadt, said that since the club — which does not sell alcohol — opened in 1996, there had been no complaints from borough officials or neighboring businesses.
“We do well here,” he said. “And we’ve never heard anything from anybody in town.”
The decision to create a district for sexually oriented businesses in Carlstadt in the late 1990s was made for financial reasons, Mayor Roseman said, after a chain restaurant said it would not open in the borough because it would have to do business near a strip club that has since closed.
“The owner said to me, ‘How do I run a family restaurant when there’s a sign next door’ ” advertising sexually themed entertainment? Mr. Roseman said.
The mayor said the Video Extra store was still a headache for the borough. One Bergen County judge ordered it closed because it violated zoning laws, but another judge ruled that it could reopen, he said.
It remains too soon to gauge the effects the zoning laws may have on the towns and their sexually oriented businesses, said Mr. Levy, the cabaret association official.
“I think you will have to look back 10 years from now and say: ‘Did it work? Did we create something positive?’ ” he said. “I don’t know.”