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Missouri City creates new zone for SOBs

Missouri City, Texas- Because of potential constitutional conflicts with the current ordinance, requiring these businesses to get a specific use permit to locate anywhere in the city, city council has approved an ordinance to allow SOBs in industrial districts and some retail districts.
Examples of SOBs are semi-nude studios and adult bookstores, movie theaters, video arcades, video stores and motels.

While the ordinance takes away the requirement for a special permit, it does set limitations on where these types of businesses can locate and allows the city to regulate them, says assistant city attorney Caroline Kelley.

“With this rewrite, we are able to regulate these types of businesses and their secondary effects, which include increased crime, drug use and decreased property values,” she says. “Also, this ordinance is what is called a dispersion ordinance, which prevents SOBs from locating next to each other to avoid enhanced secondary effects.”

The law requires cities to afford SOBs a reasonable avenue to locate in the city, says Kelley. There must be available property, but it does not say that the property must be the least expensive and most accessible, she says.

Amendments to the ordinance include expanding the distance requirements from churches, schools, parks and residences to 1,500 feet and banning certain types of signage typically associated with these types of businesses, says Kelley.

The ordinance also includes provisions relating to hours of operation, age restriction, public health and safety requirements, maintenance of a list of employees, provision of on-premise management at all times, restrictions on certain unlawful acts, city inspections and permit and renewal requirements.

Under the current ordinance, adopted in 1988, SOBs may locate anywhere in the city with a specific use permit. However, to get the permit, the business would have to go through the city’s planning and zoning commission and city council, says Missouri City’s assistant city attorney Caroline Kelley.

It is federal law to give SOBs an opportunity to exist in a city, and there must be available property, says Kelley. Also, recent Supreme Court cases talk about the arbitrary nature of specific use permits, she says.
“Even if the business met every requirement to get the permit, it could still be voted down by city council,” says Kelley.

Under the new ordinance, SOBs would be allowed in the city’s LC-4 retail districts and Industrial districts, which comprise about 261 acres in the northern portion of the city, north of U.S. 90A.

Answering questions on whether the ordinance makes it harder or easier for SOBs, Kelley says she does not feel it is more restrictive or lenient, just substantially different. Kelley calls this ordinance more “forward thinking,” designating what type of operations are accepted and offering clear cut regulations for signage, interior and what type of activities can go on.
Also, historically, these types of businesses have not been attracted to the area, Kelley says.

“This is not the type of area that these businesses hope to be located in, and I don’t think it is going to change one way or the other.”

Questions were also raised on whether the new ordinance would be legally defensible since the city would be able to tightly legislate and control how SOBs operate and everything about them. Missouri City’s director of planning Wayne Neumann says the ordinance proposed is legally defensible.

Kelley says in rewriting the ordinance, the legal department tired to strike a balance between developing an ordinance that would survive judicial review as well as mitigate and minimize the secondary effects associated with SOB operations.

Kelley says that there are some cities do that have even more stringent regulations, and those cities are toeing the line on potential litigation in that regard. And, while the Missouri City ordinance has never been challenged, other local ordinances have been challenged and none of them have survived judicial review, Kelley says.

The ordinance will come up for second reading at the Dec. 15 council meeting.



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