If ordinance passes, civil liberties group may challenge constitutionality in court.The American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia has asked the Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors and its chief legal advisor to reject proposed amendments to county ordinances that regulate adult businesses. In a letter sent to County officials today, the ACLU says that many of the amendments are unconstitutional, leaving the County vulnerable to litigation challenging the ordinance.
" Chesterfield officials seem to be trying to accomplish a ban on all adult merchandise by creating a regulatory scheme that makes it impossible to run an adult business," said ACLU of Virginia executive director Kent Willis. "No court will allow them to do that because the right to purchase non-obscene adult merchandise is protected by the First Amendment."
"Although localities have some leeway to regulate adult businesses due to the effects they may have on the areas surrounding them, any restrictions imposed by the government must be justified and specific," added Willis. " Chesterfield's regulations are broad, vague, and based on a lot of conjecture."
The ACLU objects to language in the ordinance that gives the Board of Supervisors virtually unfettered discretion to reject any adult business seeking the required conditional use permit. For example, a business may be denied a permit based on "the nature of the surrounding area and the extent to which the proposed use might impair its present or future development" or the fact that the ordinance might contribute to the "deterioration of the area."
"Under these guidelines," said ACLU of Virginia legal director Rebecca Glenberg, "the Board could simply decide as a matter of policy that all adult businesses impair future development or cause neighborhood deterioration, and none would ever receive a permit."
The ACLU also objects to the lack of the procedural protections for adult business applicants. The ordinance gives the County too long (120 days) to process conditional use applications and does not create safeguards to ensure a speedy court resolution should the matter end up in litigation. It also requires unnecessary and burdensome separation of adult materials from other merchandise in a manner that would effect even mainstream bookstores and video stores.
Another provision requires adult stores to post surveillance cameras inside and outside of the establishment, and to share the videotapes with police and the Chesterfield Planning Department upon demand. Video surveillance must be continuous and must provide "clear imagery of the establishment's patrons and their vehicles."
"Unable by law to ban adult merchandise altogether, Chesterfield first goes after the businesses by making it almost impossible for them to meet the zoning requirements," said Willis. "Then it goes after the patrons by promising to track them on videotape. These are government strong-arm tactics that every Chesterfield citizen should object to, whether or not they want access to adult materials."
Contacts: Kent Willis, Executive Director, ACLU of Virginia Rebecca Glenberg, Legal Director, ACLU of Virginia 804-644-8022