Strengthen laws on Warren’s adult business

To read the Niles ordinance regulating sexually oriented businesses, click here.

It wasn’t that long ago that Warren was the place to go for visits to massage parlors and sex-related businesses.

Multiple Warren-based massage parlors even regularly advertised their questionable business operations in the sports pages of newspapers outside of the area, creating a black eye for Warren and an embarrassment for the reputable businesses here.

For years we heard city law enforcement officials, including Law Director Gregory V. Hicks, argue there was little that could be done to stop operations of these sexually oriented businesses. But then the Ohio Attorney General’s Office conducted an extensive investigation and raids leading to arrests and the shuttering of most of them in 2012.

Affidavits that followed quoted clients who went to the spas for sex. The city used nuisance abatement laws to close the spas and then finally took permanent action to reduce the number of massage parlor licenses from 10 to two. A 2012 ordinance also established stricter new rules regulating massage parlors.

Still, council never took further action that could have limited other sex-related businesses from moving in.

That was a missed opportunity.

Now an “adult” club has opened for business on the city’s southeast side. It is located just a stone’s throw from hundreds and hundreds of acres of former industrial property that is undergoing remediation and cleanup worth millions of dollars, all with hopes of redeveloping it into new jobs for our area.

Now, any potential buyer or property developer visiting the site is greeted by signs of the sexual nature of activities in this building. That is embarrassing and likely a deterrent for future development.

The club met all building department regulations required of any new business before opening its doors. Yet, members of Warren City Council were caught off guard with no knowledge that the business was planning to open until it was in full operation.

Again, Hicks is adamant there is nothing the city can do that wouldn’t violate such businesses’ constitutional rights to be here.

Hicks acknowledges that the city can adopt more strict regulations, including limiting days and hours of operation, location and other rules to make obtaining a license more challenging.

So, why not do that?

Neighboring Niles, for instance, initiated a moratorium in 2013 prohibiting new sexually oriented businesses from opening in that city. While two existing businesses located on Youngstown Warren Road still operate under a grandfather clause, no new businesses were permitted. The moratorium lasted for several years until 2017 when it was lifted by Niles City Council only to be replaced with an ordinance regulating sexually oriented businesses in the city.

The 13-page ordinance outlines in detail definitions of sexually oriented businesses, locations in the city where they are permitted, hours and days of operations, licensing requirements and fees for the businesses and all its employees, allowances for random inspections and more.

One of the first steps in applying for sexually oriented business licensing in Niles requires an application and fee be filed with the chief of police, who then will conduct background investigations on the applicant and employees. It only stands to reason that the chief also then may share that information with the city’s elected leaders to head off frustrations and embarrassment of these city leaders finding out after the fact — as was the case in Warren this month.

Niles licenses for sexually oriented businesses and their employees expire each year, allowing for annual updated investigations and background checks to be conducted on each employee and business before renewal, and the city may order temporary closure if the business’ license expires.

The $50 application fees charged by Niles are not excessive; however, they create challenges that ensure these controversial businesses and their operators have clean backgrounds, filtering out those that don’t.

All in all, the regulations are reasonable while setting strict limits. It’s time Warren, our county seat, takes similar action.

No one wants to see civil litigation from businesses hoping to move into Warren, but why is it sexually oriented businesses tend to move into certain communities where they are tolerated, and avoid other communities where there is intolerance?

It’s time Warren takes the steps to show they will strictly regulate controversial businesses rather than welcoming them without restriction.