The Charles County Board of Commissioners approved on Tuesday a temporary resolution banning the approval of site development plans or permit issuance for any property whose use would include adult entertainment.
The resolution passed unanimously at the meeting, and without any discussion from the board. Commissioner Amanda Stewart (D) wasn’t present at Tuesday’s meeting.
“Recent efforts to open an adult entertainment club in an area near churches, schools and residential neighborhoods were unwelcomed by the community and it necessitated the Board’s action today,” Commissioners’ President Reuben B. Collins II (D) said in a Tuesday press release that came out shortly after the meeting. “We need this resolution to give the county time to conduct a thorough review of our zoning ordinances and a study regarding the adverse impacts of adult entertainment establishments to ensure they are addressed.”
The resolution takes effect immediately and expires on Dec. 31 of this year, per the release.
The county’s zoning regulations do not provide specific guidance or restrictions on adult entertainment clubs and related activities. The resolution requires all applicants seeking a Certificate of Use and Occupancy to provide a written statement that no adult entertainment activities will occur on their properties as part of business operations. The county’s zoning officer is authorized to deny any application that does not include that statement.
County chief of media services Jennifer Harris said Wednesday night by email that “we don’t encounter many situations in which a Certificate of Use & Occupancy is issued for one identified use and then, later, it’s discovered that the property is being used for something entirely different.”
“However,” Harris wrote, “we do encounter situations in which a person/business seeks to use the expedited Change of Occupancy (green card) process to obtain a new U&O. This expedited process is available if there is no construction that would require a building or other trade permit. But, if we discover that work was done without the required permits, we work with the business owner to bring the property into compliance. The length of the process will depend upon the nature and scope of the violations.”
At Tuesday’s committee meeting, county attorney E. Wesley Adams III recalled for the board the fiasco on the western side of the county last year, when in Bryans Road one such establishment tried to open.
The applicants for X4B, the Maryland Independent reported at the time, submitted a change of occupancy inspection card to the county that would allow them to occupy the former home of Mama Stella’s Ristorante Italiano in Bryans Road. County officials said at the time they were told that X4B was “intending to use the existing building ... similar to what Mama Stella’s had done.” However, social media posts at the time seemed to indicate that the space would be used for entirely different purposes than those they’d applied for, causing a commotion in the community that culminated in a packed public meeting.
An injunction was filed at the time, Adams recalled for the board, and after it was granted county zoning officials and Adams found “little to no regulation in Charles County code that would affect the placement of any of these establishments.”
The board, Adams said Tuesday, does have the legal authority to regulate their location, “and in order to get there, the county needs some form of study or investigation to determine what, if any … adverse secondary impacts on the health, safety and welfare and citizens of the county would be present by the operation of a particular establishment in a particular area in the county.”
A zoning ordinance to that effect, Adams said, is a possibility but a time-consuming one. It would take a series of public hearings and appearances before multiple county boards, “providing a large window of time” for the type of businesses they’re concerned about opening to do just that. Tuesday’s measure, he said, is a stop-gap rather than a permanent measure while they assess the health, safety and environmental effects of adult entertainment establishments opening.
The measure, Adams said in session, protects citizens’ health and welfare while the requisite measures are taken, but also protects the legal rights of applicants. Other counties, Adams said, have already conducted similar studies, and the county can avail itself of those resources while making determinations on the local level.
The commissioners directed the Department of Planning and Growth Management to study the issue and draft a zoning text amendment that will “legally regulate the location, signage, security requirements, hours of operation and related activities of adult entertainment establishments,” according to the release. The commissioners want the zoning text amendment ready by July 1.