Ocean Shores enacts restrictions to control adult businesses

The city of Ocean Shores now has restrictions in place that could apply to any sort of adult business planning to operate within city limits.

Resulting from three separate votes at the Feb. 25 City Council meeting, the city has amended Ocean Shores municipal code to create a new chapter on adult entertainment business licensing.

The move came largely from the City Council’s imposed moratorium on adult-related businesses after it was rumored that a bikini barista business was interested in starting up, although no formal application was ever made. That moratorium would have expired in March had the city not taken action, explained City Attorney Brent Dille.

Dille explained the new restrictions are contained in three separate ordinances.

As a prelude to the change in city code, the city states it “takes notice of the experience of other cities and counties in attempting to combat the specific adverse impacts of businesses that on a regular basis provide adult entertainment, including semi-nude dancing, as a substantial portion of their business operations.”

According to the language adopted by the Council, “The City finds that adult entertainment has historically led to an increase in prostitution, sexually transmitted disease, drug and alcohol offenses and other criminal activity; and adult entertainment uses sometimes are fronts for or operated by persons associated with organized criminal activities.”

The first ordinance relates specifically to licensing, which has 13 specific requirements on the initial application. The second defines assorted adult businesses and defines inappropriate contact and actions or activities; and the third provides zoning restrictions and requirements should any business attempt to operate in the city (within a B2 zone).

“In reading through this, it’s really thorough, and I appreciate it,” said Council member Eric Noble. “I personally think it’s better to be pro-active. No one knows what’s going to happen five or 10 years down the road, so being ahead of the curve doesn’t hurt.”

Council member Susan Conniry noted the new policies would make a license for an adult business more “controlling and confining than some of the other business licenses we have given out. Does that create a problem for us if we have picked on a specific business type?”

Dille noted much of the language is similar to that adopted by other municipalities who have faced the issue before. “The concern with these adult entertainment ordinances, obviously, is the First Amendment and freedom of speech,” he said, saying the ordinances proposed for Ocean Shores “meet those constitutional challenges.”

Council member Bob Peterson said the new ordinances in total “achieve what some of us want with regard to making it a very difficult venture to bring a business like this into town.”

However, Jon Martin questioned how the policy had started with a discussion about a bikini barista coffee business and “now it has morphed into something much greater to addressing an issue that we don’t even have.”

Dille explained the second ordinance does have language that would pertain to a bikini barista business, which would be considered a limited-apparel business under the adult entertainment section.

Another Council member, Steve Ensley, continued his opposition to the new ordinances: “We are legislating for a problem that does not exist. … It’s not a current problem, so we are actually legislating for an imaginary problem, and I find that to be not a very good use of our time and effort.”

Both Martin and Ensley voted against the first of the measures, while the others (Peterson, Noble, Conniry and Lisa Griebel) voted for it after waiving a second reading. Martin voted for the second and third parts after the initial action.

Resident Alex Suarez thanked the Council for taking action: “This protects Ocean Shores and I urge you to continue protecting it. This is the kind of ordinance that, if you don’t need it, is on the books and it doesn’t harm anybody. But if we need it, we really need it.”