Rapid City council members found themselves in an uncomfortable spot at Monday’s meeting, which happens when elected officials face tough decisions under the glare of the public eye.
They needed to decide whether to allow an adult business to open near Karate for Kids on Deadwood Avenue. Dick and Jane’s Naughty Spot had already received the Planning Commission's approval and the city attorney’s office said it met the requirements for receiving the conditional-use permit required of a “sexually-oriented business,” which includes being 1,000 feet away from public and private educational facilities.
The city attorney’s office determined that Karate for Kids did not fit that definition and warned the council the city could face a lawsuit if it didn't heed its advice.
Also at the meeting were an estimated 80 Karate for Kids supporters and their attorney, who were appealing the commission’s decision. They argued the karate business was an educational institution and wanted to protect the children from an adult business. The attorney promised to sue if the appeal was rejected.
Some argued the council faced a legal vs. moral decision. But there was another choice — do the right thing, which the council did, voting 6-4 to repeal the Planning Commission’s decision.
Business owner David Eliason left little doubt he will consider suing the city for denying him a location that city staff had approved. “I’ve been to federal court multiple times, and I’ve never lost,” he said after the meeting.
In 2013, the city of Sturgis wanted to change its zoning ordinance to move Dick and Jane’s from its current location on Lazelle Street and was sued by Eliason, who prevailed in federal court.
Eliason, however, did leave the door open to finding a solution that would keep the matter out of the courts, saying he would consider a new location if it was pre-approved by the city.
Adult-oriented businesses are often not popular with many people. Yet, their owners have a First Amendment right to sell their products and apparently Eliason believes there is a market for them in the Rapid City area.
The city attorney’s office recognizes these facts and urged the council to reject the appeal to avoid a lawsuit. Now, the city needs to follow that advice to avoid costly litigation by helping the owner find a new location for his business, which shouldn't be difficult in a city as large and sprawling as Rapid City.
Otherwise, the city will engage in a fight it will likely lose and that's not good for anybody.