City councilor Theresa Kail-Smith this morning introduced legislation that would regulate how adult entertainment businesses are permitted and operate in the city.
If the changes go through, zoning rules would be more clear cut ... and lap dances would be outlawed.
Spurred by two new clubs proposed for the North Side and the West End -- part of her district -- Smith says "interest in more adult entertainment establishments is continuing to billow forth, since we remain, for all practical purposes, the Wild West when it comes to adult business operation."
Permitting for adult entertainment -- like strip clubs, adult book stores and theatres -- is currently handled through city zoning code and requires permission from the City Planning Commission and City Council. Smith proposes changing the process to make it permitted "by use right" in the General and Urban Industrial districts.
"For decades upon decades, Pittsburgh has relied on essentially one rule when it came to regulated sexually-oriented businesses: you had to ask before you could open one," Smith said at a press conference today. "This [legislation] is absolutely necessary to eliminate any perception of arbitrary decision-making by public officials based upon vague standards."
The second bill deals with conduct, prohibiting entertainers "in a state of undress" from going within six feet of patrons. It also prohibits physical contact between them. Stages must be at least 18 inches high and rooms must be well-lit. Smith said current clubs will not be grandfathered into these regulations and will have to change how they operate.
The final bill requires that adult entertainment owners, operators, managers and employees are licensed, undergo criminal background checks and an annual renewal.
Smith says enforcement will fall to the Bureau of Building Inspection and the Department of Public Safety. As for enforcing the 6-foot/no-contact rule, she says "Enforcement is crucial but it's going to hold owners accountable as well."
Bram Reichbaum, author of the Pittsburgh Comet blog and research consultant in Smith's office, says that concerned residents have already volunteered to monitor the establishments and call the city's 311 line if they spot violations.
Appeals will be handled through nuisance property appeals board.
Smith said the city's adult entertainment ordinance has been "Constitutionally problematic" after it was successfully challenged by HDV-Hustler club in Chateau. The city is also currently appealing a judge's approval for a club proposed by Marquise Investments in the West End. The appeal is still pending.
Smith said she modeled her bill off of an Ohio ordinance and has been vetted by the city's law department. "These are the types of laws which can ensure that important First Amendment freedoms can co-exist peaceably in an urban environment, attracting as few negative secondary effects as possible for communities, neighbors, patrons and employees alike."