Denton County commissioners voted Tuesday to give the Sheriff’s Office oversight in the inspection and potential approval of any sexually oriented businesses looking to move into the county.
The policy — which bans such businesses within 1,000 feet of schools, churches, child-care facilites, public parks and neighborhoods — came after a review of the county’s regulations and who should be responsible for inspection and approval of the businesses.
“The original policy had the [business] reviewed and approved by the Commissioners Court. This policy, inspection and approval is initially [done] by the sheriff’s department,” said Commissioner Hugh Coleman, who recommended the sheriff handle oversight.
Business owners can appeal any rejection to the Commissioners Court and on to state district court if necessary.
“I think this is the best manner for us to give people — if they want this kind of business — the opportunity for a fair hearing while still preserving the county’s ability to regulate these types of businesses,” Coleman said.
In an e-mailed statement in response to questions about the new ordinance, Sheriff William Travis said he will do whatever is necessary to protect residents from what he termed immoral and unethical establishments.
“I will not tolerate these establishments in and around our schools, parks, churches & our community neighborhoods,” Travis wrote. “As the sheriff, my support of this ordinance is neither the intent nor effect to restrict the First Amendment but to protect our children, families and good citizens of Denton County.”
Commissioner Bobbie Mitchell’s vote on the ordinance was a reluctant one. She remarked during the meeting that while she does not personally like sexually oriented businesses, she acknowledges their legal right to do business.
“At least the ordinance will restrict some of the things they can do and protect the citizens of Denton County,” Mitchell said. “I would like to not have them at all.”
Mitchell recalled a time when there were sexually oriented businesses in Denton County on State Highway 121 past The Colony.
The county’s policy was last updated in 2002, sometime after a sexually oriented business on that highway was shut down by former District Attorney Bruce Isaacks. The sheriff at the time did not want the responsibility of crafting the policy so the task was given to the chief fire marshal and emergency services coordinator Jody Gonzalez.
“They used to have one right there as you go into The Colony that burned down, that was back when I was mayor around 1995,” Mitchell said. “But lately we haven’t had any, which has been a good thing. We have to vote on all kinds of things sometimes we may not agree on. But if it’s a legal business, what do you do?”
BJ LEWIS can be reached at 940-566-6875 and via Twitter at @BjlewisDRC.