Manitou Springs weighing locations, rules for sex shops

Author: Rachel Riley, The Gazette - October 1, 2017 - Updated: December 31, 2017

Manitou Springs city officials are trying to finalize rules for another controversial industry: adult entertainment. (Associated Press file photo)

Three years after Manitou Springs created regulations for recreational marijuana stores, city officials are trying to finalize rules for another controversial industry: adult entertainment.

The city has been working since 2010 on a set of licensing requirements for “sexually-oriented businesses” — the sanitized term for strip clubs, adult theaters, porn shops, sex toy retailers and other erotica vendors. But in Manitou Springs, where the commercial district is sandwiched among schools, parks and neighborhoods, the question is where to allow the businesses.

The City Council postponed a decision Sept. 19 on a proposed ordinance that included a list of location restrictions that would have prohibited the businesses on all but a few commercially zoned parcels in the city. Under the law, each business would need to be at least 500 feet from a church, public library, day care facility, school, liquor store or recreational or medical marijuana business. The set of rules would have also prevented the businesses from opening on lots abutting El Paso Boulevard, Beckers Lane or Manitou, Park, Canon or Ruxton avenues.

Those restrictions would have essentially left only one location: Higginbotham Flats, a space along U.S. 24, just southeast of the Serpentine Drive exit, that can be seen as tourists and travelers enter Colorado Springs from Ute Pass. The area consists of some undeveloped commercial property, a storage facility and a piece of land the city co-owns with a local nonprofit that was once the site of a community garden.

“The majority of us felt that was a little too restrictive,” said Councilman Jay Roher. “I’m sure we can come up with some place that makes more sense than Higginbotham Flats.”

So, it’s “back to the drawing board” for the city attorney and staff, who were directed to look into other possible locations, Manitou Springs City Administrator Jason Wells said.

The council passed a six-month moratorium on sexually oriented businesses in February after the city’s Planning Department received several “casual inquiries” about establishing such businesses within city limits, Wells said. The concern was that city officials might not have a say in where such a business would go without formal regulations, he said.

In August, council members voted to extend the moratorium to Nov. 10 to give themselves more time to work on a set of rules.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that municipalities cannot ban adult businesses because they are protected by the First Amendment; however, cities and towns may establish regulations dictating where and how they can operate.

“By law, we have to allow them. The regulations let us manage it the Manitou way,” said Mayor Nicole Nicoletta. “It does provide a level of control for us to say how we want those industries to present themselves in our community.”

Establishing rules would also help the city manage illegal “secondary effects” that could arise from the opening of cabarets and other adult businesses, such as prostitution and gambling, Nicoletta said. The proposed ordinance expressly prohibits both.

Colorado Springs established similar regulations in 1995. The city is now home to four licensed sexually oriented businesses: two Pleasures entertainment clubs, a movie theater and a bookstore. Some lingerie stores and boutiques also sell adult toys.

The businesses seldom get a warm welcome from surrounding communities. Before Fascinations moved into its 5,500-square-foot space at Dublin and North Academy boulevards in 2010, some neighbors protested the store’s opening.

Finding appropriate locations in Manitou Springs is even tougher because “there’s not much off the beaten path,” said Joseph Gosselin, an employee at First Amendment adult bookstore on East Fillmore Street.

“These places should be more towards the outskirts of town instead of part of the central hub – or, at least, where you wouldn’t want kids walking alone,” Gosselin said.

In addition to establishing a licensing process, Manitou Springs’ proposed ordinance offers other provisions: no alcohol allowed, servers must be fully clothed, patrons must put gratuities in a tip jar or box instead of giving the money directly to entertainers, and devices or novelties that depict sexual acts or certain “anatomical areas” can’t be visible from outside.

After city staff tweak the proposed ordinance’s location restrictions, the public will have at least two more opportunities to comment at council meetings before a final vote is taken, Nicoletta said. If regulations are not approved by the Nov. 10 deadline, the council will likely extend the moratorium until the rules are finalized.

Rachel Riley, The Gazette

Rachel Riley, The Gazette