Cheshire Bridge strip clubs to stay; vote fails

Cheshire Bridge adult entertainment clubs and shops scored a victory Monday as Atlanta City Councilmembers voted down legislation that would have forced the businesses to move within five years.

Councilman Alex Wan’s legislation failed by a 9 to 6 vote, with some citing concerns that the move would push the businesses to other communities. Other members shared discomfort with phasing out previously-granted zoning uses.

“I don’t know that this isn’t a piece of legislation that solves a problem in one neighborhood, but makes it potentially a problem for others as time will go on,” said Councilman C.T. Martin of District 10.

District 2 Councilman Kwanza Hall also voted against the measure.

“This could easily be shifted to other parts of town, to neighborhoods that have far more challenges economically,” he said to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, adding “it gets scary to me.. the taking of rights and removing jobs.”

Wan, whose district includes Cheshire Bridge, pledged to continue his work improving the corridor, but said he will not pursue future legislation that would undo grandfathered-in uses. He based legislation on goals set forth in a 1999 Cheshire Bridge Road study the neighborhoods and businesses crafted and the city adopted.

Councilmembers Michael Julian Bond, Keisha Lance Bottoms, Carla Smith, Aaron Watson and H. Lamar Willis joined him in voting for the proposal.

“The real challenge now is having everyone remain committed,” Wan said. “I’m not giving up.”

The legislation would have phased out a grandfather clause that has covered existing adult businesses in the Cheshire Bridge Road area since a 2005 rezoning project labeled them “non-conforming.” Under the ordinances, about seven businesses would have been forced to move by June 30, 2018 without compensation.

Supporters said adult clubs are to blame for the area’s developmental lag and criminal activity, a premise heavily disputed by several developers, real estate lobbyists and other opponents of the bills.

Audience members in the packed council chamber erupted in applause after the vote, among them dozens of Club Onyx employees who have actively opposed the legislation since it was introduced earlier this year.

“When our business is under attack so to speak, we like to mobilize and show that there are real people in this business who have homes and families to support,” said Dennis Williams, chief financial officer of Club Onyx. “I think this is a win for development in Atlanta, not just for us.”

Jane Rawlings, head of the neighborhood planning unit which most ardently backed the legislation, was visibly shaken by the failed vote.

“For me it was a very sad day for neighborhoods because we have done everything this city has asked of us,” said Rawlings, a 15-year resident of the area.

Rawlings said her organization has tried to reach a middle ground with the adult entertainment clubs over the years and has also turned to the police and city for help.

In recent weeks, Club Onyx’s Williams has reached out to her to discuss what else can be done, both Rawlings and Williams said.

“We will not give up,” Rawlings said. “This is our community too.”