Florida appeals court upholds city’s zoning rules for adult businesses

Monday, March 27, 2000

A North Palm Beach, Fla., ordinance restricting the locations of adult-entertainment businesses passes constitutional muster, a state appeals court has ruled.

The zoning ordinance, which was amended in 1998, prohibits any adult business from locating within 2,000 feet of any other existing adult business.

Because the town has only 173 acres zoned for commercial use and because of the 2,000-foot zoning rule, there are only a few sites currently available for use by a prospective adult-entertainment business.

421 Northlake Boulevard Corporation, which purchased Crystal’s nightclub, challenged the constitutionality of the ordinance, arguing that it effectively prohibited a second adult business from legally operating in the city.

Last January, a trial judge issued an order prohibiting 421 Northlake from operating the nightclub.

On appeal, the Florida appeals court affirmed the trial judge’s decision in 421 Northlake Blvd. Corp. v. Village of North Palm Beach.

The appeals court examined the constitutionality of the zoning ordinance under U.S. Supreme Court precedent established by its 1985 decision in Renton v. Playtime Theatres, Inc. In Renton, the high court upheld a zoning law that restricted the location of adult businesses.

The Supreme Court said that adult-entertainment zoning laws are to be considered content-neutral, because they are generally passed not to suppress free expression but to combat harmful secondary effects allegedly associated with such businesses.

The high court said that an adult-entertainment zoning law is constitutional if it:

  • Serves a substantial government interest.
  • Advances that substantial interest in a narrowly tailored manner.
  • Leaves open reasonable alternative avenues of communication.

421 Northlake challenged the zoning law, claiming that it did not allow reasonable alternative avenues of communication.

However, the appeals court rejected this argument, writing that “the two available sites — on as many as five different locations — communicate ‘reasonable alternative avenues of communication’ under the First Amendment.”

“We hold that, given the extremely small area and modest population of the Village, two sites satisfy appellant’s constitutional right to freedom of expression,” the court wrote in its March 22 opinion.

Thomas Baird, the attorney who represented North Palm Beach, said: “The decision followed a long line of court precedent, which says adult-entertainment zoning laws are constitutional as long as they leave a sufficient number of available sites open.”

Attorneys for 421 Northlake were out of the office and could not be reached for comment.