Columbus further defines and restricts zoning for adult establishments

Published 10:00 pm Tuesday, May 23, 2017

COLUMBUS – The Town of Columbus approved amendments to its zoning ordinance last week to specifically define and place restrictions on adult establishments.

Columbus Town Council met Thursday, May 18 and approved the amendments, including defining adult establishments according to N.C. General Statutes and restricting such businesses to the town’s Highway Commercial zoning district only.

The town has not received any permits for any such businesses with council saying they are being proactive to restrict those type businesses as much as legally possible.

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Council approved the amendments following a public hearing, which drew several residents who all spoke against the town allowing adult establishments.

Columbus Mayor Eric McIntyre explained to the public that North Carolina law does not allow a town to completely bar adult establishments. Towns have to allow all businesses in at least one zoning district.

McIntyre said since the town is not allowed to completely bar those types of businesses from town, council decided to restrict them to certain places in town in case one ever wants to come to Columbus. McIntyre said it is a very small area where adult establishments would be allowed, according to the town’s new restrictions.

“So, what this council has done is protect the town to keep that type of business out of town,” said McIntyre.

Resident W.D. Tipton said he heard the issue of adult establishments was brought up at the last meeting and there were no objections. Tipton asked council what were they thinking to allow such businesses in Columbus.

“The last thing this county, I mean the very last thing this county needs is an Adam and Eve or an Adam and Steve store,” Tipton said. “What were you thinking? My goodness. There’s people in Morganton that would make a better decision than that.”

McIntyre asked Tipton if he was at the last meeting, which Tipton answered he was not. McIntyre explained that Columbus Council is trying to restrict those type businesses as much as the law will allow.

Councilman Mark Phillips said he was the one who brought up the fact that Columbus needs to be more restrictive in regards to adult establishments.

Phillips said the town can make the zoning so difficult no adult establishment business owner will want to come to Columbus.

“We are on your side,” Phillips told Tipton. “We don’t want it. What we are trying to do is make it as restrictive as we can by the law of the state of North Carolina.”

Councilman Richard Hall asked if people remembered the tattoo parlor that came to town years ago. Hall said at the time there wasn’t a thing Columbus could do because the town didn’t have any restrictions on the books against it.

“We couldn’t do anything about getting rid of them until they got ready to leave,” Hall said. “In the meantime, we put restrictions in place so another one couldn’t come back. Tonight is an ordinance to tighten that up even further; to make it even more difficult for an adult establishment to come here.”

Freida Allen said she is a new resident to Polk County and came from 30 plus years in a place where the adult entertainment business is alive and well.

“I raised two boys in that time and I’m very much opposed to it,” Allen said.

She said she knows from working in that town that you cannot keep them out but her biggest concern is the town putting restrictions on billboards associated with adult establishments. She asked if the town could restrict the billboards if any such businesses do come to Columbus.

“We don’t want to attract the people that those billboards bring in,” she said.

McIntyre said the town recently put restrictions on signage as far as location and size. A town is not allowed by law to restrict what content goes on a sign. Town manager Tim Barth said there was a U.S. Supreme Court decision a couple of years ago that held that content on a sign cannot be restricted because that is a First Amendment right. 

McIntyre did say that billboards are not allowed along I-26 in Polk County because county commissioners at the time put restrictions in place from the Saluda exit to the state line.

There are also no billboards along U.S. 74 in Polk County.

Phillips said what Columbus is doing is very much a preventative and proactive idea.

“We are trying to protect this town,” Hall added. “We got bitten one time and woke up and had tattoo parlors in this town. We tightened the ordinances then and are tightening them more now.”

Phillips said it does his heart good to know that everybody is opposed to adult establishments in Columbus as adamantly as he is opposed.

“It lets me know if someone wanted to put a place like this they will have a fight on their hands not only from us (council), but from you (the public) as well.”

The amendment includes specific definitions for adult establishments and terms. Adult establishments will only be allowed in the Highway Commercial district with the following conditions also being met:

• Any structure in which an adult bookstore or adult mini-motion picture theatre establishment is the principal use accessory use shall be separated by a distance of 1,500 feet from any residential district, school, church, child care center, park or playground. An adult establishment lawfully operating as a conforming use is not rendered a non-conforming use by the subsequent location of a residential district, school, church, child care center, park or playground within the 1,500 foot separation distance.

• The distance for separation from residential zoning and protected uses shall be measured in a straight line from the closest edge of the building occupied by an adult use to the nearest residential zoning district or to the property line of a protected use.

• There will be restricted access to the business establishment or portions of the business establishment by persons under 16 years of age.

• Posted signs or notices outside and/or inside the business establishment indicating that the material offered for sale or rental may be offensive.

• The building or portion of the building containing the business establishment does not have windows or has windows that are screened or otherwise obstructed or are situated in a manner that restricts visual access from outside the building to materials displayed within for sale or rental.