Atlanta to consider closing Cheshire Bridge strip clubs

Legislation to phase out Cheshire Bridge Road’s iconic strip clubs moved forward Wednesday with approval from Atlanta’s zoning committee.

Councilman Alex Wan is behind the proposal that would give adult entertainment clubs such as the Onyx and Bliss five years to relocate. Wan said he introduced the legislation, backed by residents and Cheshire Bridge neighborhood planning units, to help the area achieve its master plan. Proponents of the ordinance say the adult clubs are preventing economic development there.

“This is easily the most significant piece of legislation I’ve championed,” Wan said at the packed meeting, attended by residents, attorneys and several dozen adult entertainment club employees. “My fundamental belief is that if a community goes to that much effort, the city should do everything it can to (implement) that vision.”

But opponents, which include owners and employees of sexually oriented businesses, commercial landholders and developers, say the legislation amounts to a taking of property without compensation and they pledge to fight it in court. Several businesses could be affected by the pair of ordinances.

Federal and state laws, commonly referred to as “takings laws,” protect businesses from government decisions that effectively ban a legal business. Additionally, sexually oriented businesses nationwide have a long history of using the First Amendment of free speech and free expression protections to fend off government efforts to shut them down.

The clubs were labeled non-conforming adult businesses as a result of a 2005 neighborhood commercial rezoning project. However, the adult clubs and shops were grandfathered in at that time. Phasing out the businesses now, opponents say, upends that agreement and sets an unnerving precedent for similar businesses across the city.

“I don’t think they understand the depth and threat of this ordinance … their efforts are unconstitutional,” said attorney Aubrey Villines, who represents the Onyx. “We think it’s a taking of property rights, because we have to be out by a certain time and there is no compensation. That is a taking of property.”

The zoning committee approved the legislation by a 3-2 vote, with one abstention. Councilwoman Keisha Lance Bottoms and Carla Smith joined Wan in passing the measure. Councilman Howard Shook and Ivory Lee Young, Jr. voted against it, and Councilwoman Joyce Sheperd abstained.

The legislation now heads to the full council for consideration and is expected to be taken up this Monday.

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