A court gave a green light to what's left of the city's red light district on Tuesday, turning aside the city's desire to further restrict its racy adult establishments by finding new rules are unconstitutional.
The 3-2 decision from the state Supreme Court Appellate Division was derided by two dissenting judges as resulting from a "mechanical and mathematical approach" to analyzing changes the city has tried to make for 14 years in a 1995 law that reduced the number of businesses offering sexually explicit materials and chased others from residential areas.
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The city has claimed that adult bookstores, movie houses and strip clubs were "superficially complying" and have made a sham of rules requiring that they limit the space devoted to a sexual focus to no more than 40 percent of their space if they want to exist in areas where sexually explicit businesses are otherwise not permitted.
The appeals ruling conformed with the conclusions of a lower-court judge who analyzed 13 stores such as Thunder Lingerie, Blue Door Brooklyn and Video Excitement, finding they did not have graphic signage such as "XXX" and there were "almost no garish neon lighted signs, no hard-core sexual images or language on them." The judge also sided with dance clubs including Bare Elegance, Lace, Private Eyes, Pussycat Lounge, Vixen and Wiggles.
The city went after sex trade establishments in 1995 after a study begun two years earlier by the city planning office concluded that the rapidly growing number of adult businesses led to increased crime rates, deteriorating community character, reduced commercial activities and decreasing property values. New zoning rules banned the establishments from residential districts and manufacturing and commercial districts where residential development also occurred and required they be located at least 500 feet from churches, schools and day care centers.
New rules approved in 2001 would have made it more difficult for businesses to qualify as non-adult establishments by imposing tougher restrictions regarding signage, displays of merchandise and booths for viewing adult movies.
The additional restrictions had not been enforced because of a lengthy legal battle.
The city's law office said it was reviewing the ruling.
Erica Dubno, an attorney for the businesses, said: "Obviously, we're very pleased with the decision. We believe that it was well reasoned and carefully considered the issues."
She said at least several dozen businesses had closed after enforcement of the law began in 1998 and those that remained in business were careful to change signage to better fit neighborhoods. She said people walking by might not know some establishments have adult-oriented materials or entertainment.