DOUG NURSE/The Atlanta Journal-ConstitutionPublished on: 07/04/07
Should the adult entertainment industry come calling on the new city of Milton, it will find the city has rolled up the welcome mat — and slammed the door besides.
That's the city's view, at least. An attorney says he isn't sure the city could get its way in a court fight. Then again, no adult businesses are knocking on the slammed door in this largely rural area north of Alpharetta and west of Ga. 400.
How do strip clubs and adult video stores manage to stay in business in communities where they are unwelcome?The answer is based on competing legal principles:
Free speech: Federal courts have said a city must zone a percentage of its property to accommodate adult businesses on the grounds of "protected speech."
Community standards: Courts also have said governments can protect against prostitution, drugs and crime. That allows the government to use zoning and licensing rules to dictate where adult businesses can locate and how they operate.
The compromise: Local governments can't use zoning to run off adult businesses. In fact, the courts require that local governments set aside a number of sites where adult businesses can go.
If Milton has figured out a way to keep out the adult video stores, it will have pre-empted a fight that has nettled other young cities of Sandy Springs and Johns Creek. Both cities are entangled in court battles with sexually oriented businesses. In Johns Creek, the battle over the opening of the Love Shack video store began even before the city began operations Dec. 1.
In Milton, adult businesses can only locate in areas zoned for industrial and commercial businesses. And the city bars sexually oriented businesses within 500 feet of agricultural or residential property.
Put together, the only places left are along Windward Parkway from Ga. 9 to Deerfield Parkway — where properties have deed restrictions banning adult businesses.
In other words, the only places adult businesses are allowed legally are places where they're disallowed by covenant. "That's exactly the way we want it," said City Attorney Mark Scott. "There's a state Supreme Court case that says that's not unconstitutional. So that's that."
The area is part of a 520-acre mixed-use project developed by Hines Interests Limited Partnership, which imposed the deed restrictions in 1997. Also banned by the covenants are junk yards, jails, sewage treatment plants, and iron smelting factories.
Joanne Conley, the spa director of Mind & Body Spa on Windward Parkway, said she likes the deed restrictions.
"Having an adult business locate near here would totally ruin our business," Conley said. "We'd get freaks in here. They would think we are the wrong kind of spa."
Alan Begner, an Atlanta attorney specializing in adult businesses, said he doesn't believe Milton's plan would stand up in court.
But then again, no adult businesses have expressed interest in moving there.
The owner of the Love Shack, John Cornetta, doesn't exactly see rural Milton as a hot prospect.
"What makes these people think I would put an adult store in a farmhouse?" he said. "I'm not going to sell adult DVDs to chickens."