The committee room where the zoning committee met was packed with people opposed to the legislation, including many employees of the large strip club Onyx. Many of them wore t-shirts that stated, “ATL has no urban blight.” Nobody from the public was allowed to speak at the zoning committee meeting because public comment is only allowed at the Zoning Review Board meetings. The ZRB voted earlier this month to deny approval of the legislation.
First-term Wan, the only openly gay council member, said before the vote this legislation was “easily the most significant” he has put forth since he was elected in 2009 and added it was “critically important” to the people living in his district.
Today, Matt Rinker, who is gay and is seeking to unseat three-term council member Natalyn Archibon, issued a statement saying he opposed Wan’s proposed legislation.
“Today, we allow one NPU to force certain businesses to close because they don’t want them in their backyard,” Rinker said in a prepared statement. “Tomorrow, they decide it’s another type of business. Where does it end? Are we now saying that every NPU can just change the rules as they feel?”
City attorney Jeff Heyward told the zoning committee the five-year period in the proposed legislation is fully supported by federal law. There are other sites within Wan’s district and other districts where adult businesses can relocate to, Heyward added.
“We believe it is defensible and we support it,” he said.
Wan addressed the issue of the city being sued if his proposed ordinances are approved by the full council.
“If we allow fear of litigation to guide our decisions to what we vote for or don’t, our city would really just grind to a halt,” he said.
Wan pointed out the city’s planning department and law department fully support the legislation and the city is ready to defend the ordinances in court if approved by the full council. And court is likely where this issue will end up.
“Basically only those who oppose the legislation are adult businesses and developers. I assure you … there is nothing arbitrary about this,” Wan added.
Attending the meeting today were Onxy attorneys Aubrey T. Villines Jr. and Alan Begner. Begner also represents sex shops popular with LGBT people — Starship, Galaxy and Southern Nights. After the meeting they crowded outside the committee room with employees of Onyx to offer reassurance.
Nobody is out of a job because one, the law doesn’t go into effect for five years and, two, the city will have to defend its decision in court which will take time, explained Begner.
Villines also urged Onyx employees to reach out to their gay friends and gay business owners along Cheshire Bridge Road. Gay bars such as Heretic, Jungle and BJ Roosters, located on or near Cheshire Bridge Road, are safe from Wan’s current legislation. But Villines said gay bars would be targeted next.
“Unintended consequences will hit the gay clubs,” Villines said, who pointed out that the proposed legislation’s use of the words “urban blight” is racist.
“We are not going to tolerate racist legislation in Atlanta,” he said.
Villines added exotic dancers could include drag shows.
“I think we need to broaden our coalition. They [gay people] need to be brought in,” he added.
Several members from QUEER UP! Atlanta also attended the meeting today. Member Taylor Alexander said it plans to organize for the June 3 council meeting and said has been unsuccessful in trying to get support from gay clubs along Cheshire Bridge Road to oppose the legislation.
“One organization called Alex Wan is a beacon of light for the gay community. We’re trying to express how, if he is such a beacon of light, why is his proposal blotting out all these businesses and their light,” Alexander said.
Photo: Employees and supporters of Club Onyx showed up in force at last month’s Zoning Review Board meeting to oppose proposed legislation that would erase adult businesses from Cheshire Bridge Road. (file photo)