By Amy Wenk
The Sandy Springs City Council approved amendments to four ordinances regarding adult entertainment businesses April 21 in hopes of putting to rest pending litigation.
The strip club Main Stage/Coronet Club on Roswell Road has a case against the city in state court. Adult novelty store Insurrection and strip clubs Flashers and Mardi Gras pooled their resources to sue Sandy Springs in federal court.
The cases were filed shortly after the city incorporated more than three years ago in response to legislation that “controls the time, the place and the manner of adult business operations,” said city legal adviser Scott Bergthold, a Chattanooga-based lawyer who presented the amendments at the council meeting. “The city has a substantial governmental interest in regulating such businesses to prevent … adverse secondary effects,” such as lewdness, illicit drug use, litter, lower property values and blight.
Effective Jan 1, 2006, the city forbid adult establishments to pour alcohol on the premises, although the court cases have prevented the enforcement of that measure.
The city also enacted a provision with a five-year amortization period at the time. It requires adult businesses that are not in the appropriate zones to relocate to allowed zoning areas by Dec. 31, 2010, or to close. The ordinance lays out requirements including minimum distances from churches and schools.
The legislation “gave the clubs some heartburn, and they filed a lawsuit,” City Attorney Wendell Willard said.
He said lawyers from the Georgia Interlocal Risk Management Agency, an intergovernmental risk-sharing fund, represent the city in the cases. “The city agreed that we would not enforce the provisions of this ordinance until the court made its ruling and determined that we did in fact have the right to do what we were doing.”
Although the litigation was slow at first, Willard said, “we are now at the point where the city of Sandy Springs filed a motion for summary judgment in federal court.”
That means the lawfulness of the city’s adult entertainment ordinances could be determined without a full trial.
“As a part of the filing of that motion, the clubs have come back as a response, saying, ‘Well, judge, they’ve got all these things in their ordinance that we contend are improper,’ ” Willard said.
To counter the plaintiffs’ claims, the City Council made adjustments to the zoning, alcohol, offenses and adult entertainment ordinances to use wording that courts have upheld in other cases.
“We didn’t change anything as far as the intent of the ordinance,” Willard said. “What we have done is just clarified and improved the language so it is clearer. The definitions are clearer. We addressed anything that may be a dispute about the times in which things are to happen” in the permitting process.
The city hopes the changes undermine the clubs’ responses to the motion for summary judgment.
That could result in the court “as a matter of law saying that what we are doing with the separation of the pouring of alcohol from club operation is appropriate because of the secondary effects,” Willard said, “and that our amortization of five years is appropriate because we have also provided sufficient other places that they may relocate under appropriate zoning.”
But it might not be that easy.
Cory Begner of the law firm Begner & Begner, who represents Main Stage/Coronet Club, told the mayor and council at the April 21 meeting: “You have obviously not consulted Georgia attorneys on this, although you have made changes to your adult ordinances for 3½ years based on the pleadings of Georgia attorneys — that is quite obvious — on pleadings from my firm and pleadings from Mr. (Cary) Wiggins’ firm,” which represents Flashers, Mardi Gras and Insurrection.
“You made innumerable changes in your ordinance, yet you have decided not to consult us to these changes, which I find rather ironic,” Begner said. “I would just say to you that there are problems with this new ordinance.”