Applause broke out in the packed Atlanta City Council chambers Thursday after the Zoning Review Board voted to deny approval of legislation that would wipe out strip clubs and other adult businesses along Cheshire Bridge Road by June 30, 2018.
The final vote was two to one with two ZRB members abstaining. The ZRB is a nine-member board and five were at the meeting Thursday: Joe Alcock, David Coleman, Cynthia Miller, Mark Reece and Calvin Lockwood.
The legislation now goes before the City Council’s zoning committee on May 29 and then goes to the full council on June 3 where it still has a chance of being approved.
Giving the businesses five years to either close or move out of the rezoned areas is known as amortization, a period of time deemed appropriate for the business owners to recoup their investments.
Voting to deny approval of the legislation proposed by Atlanta City Councilmember Alex Wan were Alcock and Reece; Coleman voted against denying approval. Abstaining were Miller and Lockwood.
Alcock and Reece voiced concerns about Wan’s legislation, especially since the businesses were already legally grandfathered in some eight years ago.
“If I was a business, I might question if I moved to another district, when would the amortization follow me,” Alcock said.
Wan’s original legislation would have impacted car and auto body shops along with adult businesses. He amended his legislation Tuesday to only target adult businesses after backlash from many of the business owners along Cheshire Bridge Road. Wan has said he is trying to help constituents in the area attain a zoning plan that was developed in 1999 and approved by the City Council in 2005.
NPU-F chair: ‘We deserve to be heard’
The controversial legislation has pitted some LGBT activists against openly gay Wan because they believe Wan is attempting to eradicate behavior he deems unfit by closing sex shops and porn stores.
Several members from a new grassroots organization QUEER UP Atlanta spoke out against the legislation. Also, a huge group of employees and strippers from Club Onyx were present, holding up signs that read, among other things, “Help me help myself — no employee left behind” and “Onyx pays for my degree.”
(Jane Rawlings, chair of NPU-F)
Jane Rawlings, chair of NPU-F that includes Cheshire Bridge Road, said residents there support Wan’s legislation because they are tired of people coming to the sex shops, profiting at the community’s expense and then “turn their backs on our community.”
“The greater Cheshire Bridge Road community deserves to be heard,” she said. “At what point are our property rights and desires considered? Allowing a small number of businesses along the corridor [to dictate zoning] amounts to tyranny of a minority and a better balance needs to be struck.”
Also speaking in favor of the legislation was Alex Oxford, 21, who is gay.
“The businesses on Cheshire Bridge Road have had almost two decades to get their act together. Clearly they haven’t done that,” he said.
“There are plenty of adult-oriented business in Atlanta that are good corporate citizens in my mind, like Capulets and Brushstrokes that are probably a mile away from Cheshire Bridge Road … they help the community,” Oxford added.
Oxford also disagreed with those in the LGBT communities who believe Wan is betraying them by wanting to get rid of several adult businesses that cater to gay clientele such as Southern Nights and Inserection.
“If shutting down strip clubs and sex stores is an attack on the gay community then
we don’t have much to lose, do we?” he said.
Wan told the GA Voice last month, “All of this has become a personal attack on my perceived morals and values and that’s not the case. This conversation that I’m being a traitor to the LGBT community because of this … If the gay agenda is 24-hour bars and sex clubs, then the truth is I’m not the representative for that. And that’s how this argument seems to be crystallizing.
“If all of this doesn’t mean anything and all that is important to our community is supporting porn and sex clubs … well, I would hope our community has bigger goals and objectives,” Wan added. “If I’m going to be judged on the issue of just supporting porn and sex clubs, if that’s how the community feels at large, perhaps there may be a better candidate.”
Developer: ‘You cannot change the rules’
Some 20 people spoke out to oppose the legislation, including Aubrey T. Villines Jr., attorney for Club Onyx (in video below). He said gay clubs could be next on the list to be zoned out due to “unintended consequences” and how adult entertainment is defined.
“I don’t believe you’re going to tell me that a black dancer in Onyx is prohibited from doing this but a white male dancer at a gay club can get up and be a go go boy,” he said. “You need to advise the gay community it’s going to come to them as well.”
The proposed rezoning is an attempt to finally make real a 1999 vision statement that wanted to bring in new development and give the Cheshire Bridge area a facelift that includes stripping out strip joints and other adult businesses.
In 1999 there were 23 adult businesses located on Cheshire Bridge Road; one-third of those businesses have closed since then. Marketing conditions can and should determine which businesses survive, said Laurel David, an attorney for the International Council of Shopping Centers.
In 2005, the City Council approved the zoning changes that halted any new adult businesses and ensured new businesses would pay attention to aesthetics, such as landscaping and curb appeal. Businesses such as Inserection and Southern Nights, adult novelty stores popular with many LGBT patrons, were grandfathered in and safe from the zoning changes. Until now.
(Members of QUEER UP Atlanta speak out against proposed Cheshire Bridge Road rezoning)
Wan wants to rezone two districts along Cheshire Bridge Road to Neighborhood Commercial. In the district named NC-4, there are 30 properties across 25.2 acres with three adult businesses. NC-5 has 60 properties spread out over 44 acres and four adult businesses. In between these two districts are gay bars Heretic, Jungle and BJ Roosters, which are safe from this current proposed legislation.
The recommendations are supported by NPU-F, the city planning department and the city legal department as well as Wan.
Scott Selig, vice president of acquisitions and development for Selig Enterprises, one of the largest development companies in Atlanta, said if the proposed rezoning goes through, the city sets a bad precedent for property owners and businesses.
“You cannot change the rules after you put them in place and then say, ‘I know what we said about grandfathering, but our fingers were crossed behind our backs,’” he said.