Monongalia County commissioners say they will reconsider an ordinance that would have loosened restrictions on where strip clubs can locate after more than 15 residents spoke out against the proposal at a public hearing Wednesday.
Currently, exotic entertainment establishments must be 2,000 feet from homes, churches, schools and public parks. However, county lawyers have said that distance is too restrictive and leaves the county vulnerable to costly lawsuits, commissioners said.
After using special mapping technology, commissioners determined a distance of 600 feet would allow strip clubs to locate in the county. Farther distances could be legally too restrictive, commissioners said.
During a public hearing Wednesday, more than 15 speakers pleaded with commissioners to reconsider.
After hearing from residents, commissioners agreed to look at the possibility of a 1,000-foot setback requirement before making any final decision.
“We need to look at can we defend the 1,000 foot limit. I think we can, and I think we need to be responsive to the people,” Commission President Bill Bartolo said. “They spoke loudly and communicated very clearly that we have people in this community who want a moral standard and want government to support that standard.”
Many of the people who spoke Wednesday used religious, moral and ethical grounds as their opposition to the ordinance change. Edward Craft is the pastor at the Woodland United Methodist Church. He told urged commissioners to keep the 2,000 foot ban and said residents would support them even if legal challenges cost taxpayers thousands of dollars.
“I’m highly encouraged by all the people who came out to speak and express themselves. That’s what we need more of,” Craft said. “We are behind commissioners 100 percent if they need to spend money or whatever is necessary to defend the moral status of our community.”
The packed commission meeting had to be moved to a larger courtroom to accommodate for the large number of people who attended.
Craft said he expects people to continue to make their voices heard on the issue.
“More and more you’re going to find people in the faith community saying, ‘wait a minute, we’re offended by what’s going on,’” Craft said.
Bartolo said commissioners will reexamine whether they can implement a more stringent restriction than 600 feet.
“Who are we going to support here? The people who live in this community, raise their children in this community, go to church in this community, go to school in this community? Or are we going to support exotic entertainment?” Bartolo asked. “Exotic entertainment, by the constitution, has its place. We just need to make sure it’s the right place.”