Chatham to Adult Businesses: Keep Out!

CHATHAM, N.J.—The town of Chatham isn’t going to sit idly by while the forces of evil amass at the border, even if they’re not … amassing at the border. You simply never know when the threat of an invasion will become a reality, and once it does it’s too late to do anything about it. So better to install laws that preclude the evil from even getting a foothold, and that’s just what the city fathers would like to do in a few weeks, when new regulations will come up for a vote.

The regs for adult establishments are designed to be especially effective, to say the least. Originally developed for tattoo parlors—those scourges of skin—they have since been expanded to include other adult entertainment operations. The crafty crafters of the new regulations know that pesky free speech laws prevent them from outlawing all such businesses altogether, but they also know that they can draw a metaphoric noose so tightly around those businesses that they’ll be hard-pressed to make a dime.

A number of measures designed to do the trick are being considered, according to the Chatham Courier, a local paper that couldn’t help but comment, “Not that they’re flocking to town any time soon, but borough officials Monday night introduced an ordinance designed to control where, when, and how adult entertainment, and tattoo and body piercing establishments can operate.”

The list of restrictions is truly amazing. If passed, businesses that violate the new ordinance could be penalized up to $20,000 per violation so it would behoove anyone stupid enough to want to locate to Chatham to listen up.

First, adult businesses will only get conditional use permits and will be required to situate themselves “in the M-1 district on Commerce Street, located—across the railroad tracks—between Watchung Avenue and the Passaic River near the Summit border.” We have to admit that being “across the railroad tracks” sounds bad, not where you want to be.

That’s just the beginning, though. No one under the age of 18 will be allowed into any “tattoo parlor, body piercing or adult entertainment establishment,” according to a draft of the ordinance. No alcohol can be served in any of the establishments, but even with that they can only operate between the hours of 9 a.m. and 9:30 p.m. Employees of either gender also will be required to dress properly below and above the waist, whatever that means.

Signage will be tightly controlled, with no “ads, displays or promotional materials” allowed to be visible in public or semi-public areas, except for one exterior sign four feet square saying that minors are not permitted, and another unlit sign “no larger than six feet set no higher than 17 feet off the ground.”

Buffers that are at least 10 feet wide and six feet high will also be required around the perimeters of adult businesses, which will also be required to have “two rows of evergreen plantings installed ‘to impede the view of the interior of the premises.’”

But that’s just the beginning. Without signage and all but invisible from the street, these businesses will also have to be at least 150 feet from “any place of worship, elementary or secondary school, child care center, school bus stop, municipal, county of state park or playgrounds, or residentially zoned area.” We’re unsure if any of those places exist on the “other side of the tracks.”

Adult business will have one other hurdle to pass, however, before being in compliance with the proposed ordinance, and it's one that may make all the others moot. It turns out the borough wants to “expressly” prohibit certain types of establishments altogether.

According to the paper, those include “any establishment that sells, distributes, rents, depicts, or exhibits obscene or pornographic materials,” and “any establishment that presents live human activity and/or live human with animal activity that displays, depicts or exposes specified anatomical areas of specific sexual activity in an obscene or pornographic way.”

Try undoing that noose.