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Berkeley likely to revisit "exotic entertainment" ordinance

June 04, 2009|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- Legislation adopted by state lawmakers this week allows all counties in West Virginia to regulate the location of new strip clubs, but not adult bookstores, novelty shops and similar sexually-oriented businesses.

Senate Bill 1010, which was passed by state lawmakers on Tuesday and now awaits Gov. Joe Manchin's signature, defines "exotic entertainment" as "live entertainment, dancing or other services conducted by persons while nude or seminude in a commercial setting or for profit."

The ordinance that the Berkeley County Commission adopted in 2004 also classified adult bookstores and novelty shops and theaters as "exotic entertainment."

The county's ordinance, which was deemed invalid last year in circuit court, may be readopted by the County Commission in the coming weeks, given the new authority provided by the new state law.

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But County Commission legal counsel Norwood Bentley III acknowledged the county still has little, if any, authority to regulate the location of sexually-oriented businesses like Sensual Nights in Bunker Hill, W.Va.

Formerly known as Slightly Sinful, Sensual Nights opened in 2004 within 1,000 feet of Bunker Hill Elementary School.

The arrival of the adult-oriented business sparked a groundswell of concern by area residents, who pushed county leaders to adopt an ordinance restricting the location of exotic entertainment.

"I told (the commission) they couldn't do it," Bentley recalled. "They said they wanted to do it anyway."

The county's exotic entertainment ordinance was on the books until last year when it was successfully challenged in circuit court by a "bring your own beverage" strip club that opened in the Bunker Hill area.

Existing state law prohibits counties that have planning commissions, like Berkeley, from restricting the location of strip clubs.

The county's 2004 ordinance, meanwhile, prohibited strip clubs, bookstores, movie theaters and arcades and other businesses classified as "exotic entertainment" establishments from locating within 2,000 feet of a church, school, public recreation area, lodging businesses, "a primarily residential area" or within 2,000 feet of another such adult business.

Given the SB 1010's passage, Commissioner Ronald K. Collins on Thursday said he wanted to discuss readoption of the county's exotic entertainment ordinance at the commission's June 18 meeting.

If substantial changes are made to the ordinance, Bentley expects a public hearing will be held, but he didn't expect that to happen.

Commissioners may very well ask lawmakers to address the regulation of adult bookstores and other sexually-oriented businesses in the future, Bentley said.

A bill that that would have included restrictions on both sexually-oriented businesses as well as strip clubs died in the regular session of the Legislature earlier this year.

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