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NEWS

Houston Wins Another Round in Adult-Biz Battle

A jury sided with the City of Houston April 2nd, handing officials their first trial victory in a decade-old effort to stamp out adult businesses city fathers say are operating illegally.

The unanimous verdict found the El Rondo Motor Lodge, located in the community of Sunnyside, a “common nuisance.” That means the court can order the motel to close for at least a year. The closure can be made permanent if the motel’s owners are unwilling or unable to meet city regulations covering commercial establishments that operate within city-defined residential neighborhoods.

Craig Smyser, the attorney who represented the city, said he expects to file a closure request within a week.

“I would say that the jury has spoken; that the community of Sunnyside will not tolerate these motels that rent rooms by the hour, where prostitutes are tromping in and out at all hours of the night and day,” Smyser told The Houston Chronicle.

Houston Mayor Bill White has made the eradication of what he calls “hot-sheet” motels and other adult-entertainment establishments a priority of his administration. White frequently has decried adult entertainment as “demeaning to women.”

In December, a state district judge ordered the closure of The Penthouse Club, a gentlemen’s cabaret, because it, too, was deemed a “common nuisance.” Similar cases against two other motels and a number of adult stores are pending, according to The Chronicle.

The City of Houston’s zoning ordinance states adult-entertainment establishments may not be located within 1,500 feet of public-use areas like neighborhoods, schools, parks and churches. The ordinance has been mired in court challenges for more than 10 years. Within the past two years, Houston has taken a different tack with prosecution, pursuing the businesses based on allegations they contribute to crime and other disruptions in area residents’ quality of life.

During the El Rondo trial, police and residents testified the motel was a haven for prostitutes, where condoms were distributed at check-in and rooms were rented by the hour.

“I am so happy [about the verdict], I don’t know what to do,” James Nash, pastor of the St. Paul Baptist Church located three blocks from the hotel, told The Chronicle. “This thing has been a problem for years; one I had approached the owners about myself… We don’t want to put people out of business, but we don’t want this kind of business in our community.”

The motel’s owners and attorneys declined to comment.

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