McKeesport council OKs ordinance limiting 'adult' business operations
McKeesport council unanimously approved an ordinance on Wednesday that limits the operations of adult sexually oriented businesses to the city's West Fifth Avenue corridor.
“These are not the types of businesses we want in our city, but they have constitutional rights,” Mayor Michael Cherepko said before the vote was cast. “We have to respect those rights.”
Cherepko's comments were made in response to a radio, television and social media blitz that came after The Daily News published council's plans for the ordinance in its Wednesday edition. He said the public's perception is skewed.
“They were reporting in social media that council is approving a sex district, and that's not what we're doing,” the mayor explained.
With the April approval of regulations on the businesses — including operating hours, background checks for employees and city fees — being reapproved this month after a public hearing to ensure it was not subject to legal challenges, the mayor touted the establishment of a C-3(a) zoning district as another means of regulation.
“Prior to the zoning change, they could apply anywhere,” Cherepko said. “If they're going to come in, let's at least regulate where they can come in.”
The issue arose in February when the Saints and Sinners gentlemen's club planned a Valentine's Day opening in the former Chick's Grill in Christy Park. It has been subject to council discussions, community meetings and public protests.
Protesters and city officials have banded together in an effort to keep Saints and Sinners from opening, but Cherepko said even the zoning change may not prevent that. If approved at a later date, the business would be grandfathered into its Walnut Street location because applications were filed prior to the ordinance being adopted.
Because businesses such as Saints and Sinners are taking an interest in McKeesport operations, council president Richard J. Dellapenna said now is the time to act.
“When we start getting an interest for clubs to move into McKeesport's neighborhoods, we have to stop it before it starts,” Dellapenna said. “We basically need to confine these types of businesses to the one area where they already exist.”
During Tuesday's caucus and Wednesday's voting session, Cherepko said he does not expect city residents to take issue with conditionally permitting sexually oriented businesses in the West Fifth Avenue corridor because two already exist. Beemer's advertises nude dancers, and there is an adult bookstore/theater.
“This area was already a district by itself,” Cherepko said. “We didn't have to subdivide any other districts.”
Solicitor J. Jason Elash explained the district does not include any residential streets. It is clearly defined as the roadway and the business lots, he said.
“We concluded that this particular area would be uniquely suitable for these types of businesses,” Elash said. “We didn't have to re-draw any maps, and the lack of any residential housing adjacent to any of the parcels prevents these types of businesses from being a nuisance.”
The ordinance states that sexually oriented businesses are best located in industrial areas removed from residential neighborhoods and central business districts to ensure the adverse secondary effects are minimized. Those effects are defined as increased crime, the spread of blight and a threat to health and property values.
Adult sexually oriented businesses that will be permitted with expressed approval as conditional uses include adult arcades, bookstores, novelty stores and theaters; escort agencies; nude model studios; and any other business where the primary attraction is the exhibition of nude or partially nude people.
“It's not that we're telling people that we don't want them in McKeesport, but we don't want them in that location,” resident Caryl Randolph said, referring to the Saints and Sinners situation in Christy Park. “I support council's decision 100 percent.”
The Rev. Kathy Barnhart, pastor of Beulah Park and Christy Park United Methodist churches, said members of the McKeesport Ministerium and community protesters understand council's position, but they would prefer that all sexually oriented businesses leave McKeesport.
Barnhart invited city residents to attend weekly prayer meetings on the issue on Mondays at 7 p.m. at Bethlehem Baptist Church, 716 Walnut St.
Jennifer R. Vertullo is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1956, or firstname.lastname@example.org.