By LeAnn R. Ralph
TOWN OF FOREST — The initial wording in the Town of Forest’s proposed zoning ordinance seemed to encourage and welcome “adult establishments,” such as adult bookstores, strip clubs, adult movie theaters and novelty stores.
Several township residents objected to the idea of Forest welcoming and encouraging adult establishments at the Forest Plan Commission’s public hearing on the proposed zoning ordinance October 9.
According to a draft of the zoning ordinance, under the adult establishments section: “To create an overlay zoning district whereby adult establishments are sufficiently separated from each other and from conflicting uses so as to ameliorate the negative secondary effects of adult uses while providing adult establishments sufficient area and opportunity to operate in the Town so as not to suppress their existence.”
It was the part about “providing adult establishments sufficient area and opportunity to operate in the Town so as not to suppress their existence” that people were upset about.
Town of Forest resident Jonathan Frank wondered why adult establishments were included in the ordinance at all since the township already has a nuisance ordinance.
“I object to the wording,” Frank said, adding that it was his observation that not many in the township would be in favor of adult bookstores and movie theaters.
“‘Sufficient opportunity to not suppress their existence’ seems to encourage,” Frank said.
Town resident Renaye Edwards said she agreed with Frank.
The intent of the ordinance is not to promote adult nightclubs, said Matt Radintz, plan commission member.
“It’s only in there to keep Forest from being (named in a lawsuit),” Radintz said.
Doug Karau, town resident and former town board member, noted that the nuisance ordinance says ‘no’ to adult establishments but the new zoning ordinance allows them.
The existence of adult establishments must be addressed, said Rick Steinberger, town board member and chair of the plan commission.
A zoning ordinance cannot outlaw a business, he said.
Certain businesses can be regulated but they cannot be outlawed, said Catherine Munkittrick, an attorney for the Town of Forest.
“You are in a much better position if you have some regulation than if you don’t,” she said.
Adult establishments would only be allowed in Forest’s commercial district, and the township would be involved in litigation if adult establishments were prohibited, Munkittrick said.
The town’s zoning ordinance cannot prohibit adult establishments and cannot be arbitrary, but the ordinance can set distances, hours, prohibit alcohol and generally make it less desirable to locate in Forest, she said.
The proposed ordinance would require adult establishments to be located only in the township’s commercial district located along state Highway 64 in the hamlet of Forest.
The ordinance also would not allow adult establishments to be closer to each other than 1,320 feet and would not allow one within 1,320 feet of a house or a tavern.
The ordinance would prohibit adult establishments from being located within 2,640 feet of a school, daycare, church or public recreational facility.
Hours of operation set by the ordinance require adult establishments to be closed from 2 a.m. to 8 a.m. Monday through Friday, and closed from 2 a.m. to 12 noon on Saturdays and Sundays.
Roger Swanepoel, town resident and former town chair, noted that other townships are fighting to get adult establishments out of their municipalities.
Swanepoel said he believed the zoning ordinance should not include any references to adult establishments.
“Leave it out and deal with the litigation later. I do not believe it will be a problem,” he said.
Building another church in Forest “will keep them all out,” commented Pat Scepurek, town board supervisor, who was a member of the audience.
Town resident Carol Johnson was unable to attend the plan commission meeting but sent a letter with her comments about the proposed zoning ordinance.
Steinberger read Johnson’s letter into the record at the plan commission meeting that followed the public hearing.
Johnson mentioned the township’s nuisance ordinance and quoted from the draft ordinance that “it is not intended by this ordinance to repeal … any existing … ordinances.”
The nuisance ordinance restricts “bawdyhouses” pursuant to Wisconsin statute 823.09, Johnson wrote.
“The proposed ordinance is in direct conflict with existing Town of Forest Ordinances against these types of activities. Further, this type of zoning is not a standard type of zoning ordinance and is normally only proposed when a specific business interest lobbies a local governing unit for such a classification. If the Town intends to move forward with this zoning classification then it is reasonable to expect that all citizens of the Town of Forest should be made aware of who is requesting this classification and where do they intend to conduct this business,” Johnson wrote.
After the public hearing was closed, the plan commission discussed the proposed zoning ordinance.
Steinberger said the plan commission should “fix” the mission statement of the adult establishment ordinance “so it does not say ‘welcome.’”
Under the definitions section, the ordinance includes detailed, graphic descriptions of sexual behavior, but it is not all clear from the ordinance whether those behaviors are being approved by the ordinance as acceptable in adult establishments.
Lee Tellijohn, plan commission member, asked if those behaviors are allowed under the ordinance.
The ordinance needs detailed language to survive a vagueness challenge, Munkittrick said.
The descriptions are not stating that these are permissible under state law; the definitions are not intended to imply they are lawful,” she said.
Tellijohn said his question only required a simple “yes” or “no” answer and that he still did not know whether those behaviors were allowed under the ordinance.
Nikki Sunday, plan commission member, said the definitions made her blush.
Munkittrick said it might be worthwhile for the plan commission to clarify that section of the ordinance since it seems to imply those behaviors are permissible.
The Forest Plan Commission eventually agreed to remove the words from the ordinance “providing adult establishments sufficient area and opportunity to operate in the Town so as not to suppress their existence.”
The Forest Plan Commission approved recommending that the Forest Town Board adopt the draft zoning ordinance and send it to St. Croix County for final approval.
St. Croix County officials have already reviewed the ordinance twice, have submitted comments and have sent the proposed ordinance back to the plan commission.
St. Croix County must approve the proposed zoning ordinance before it can officially become Forest’s zoning ordinance.