CLARKSVILLE — The new owners of adult store Theatair X have been issued a temporary business permit, just under the wire of a Clarksville zoning change Tuesday that could have affected its reopening, but one that provides more places for adult business to operate.
On Tuesday afternoon, Chief Judge Tanya Walton Pratt, of the United States District Court Southern District of Indiana, issued an order approving a temporary restraining order filed Aug. 27 by Clarksville Ministries. LLC, after the business owner said the town had not yet approved its application filed Aug. 13. The judges’ order compelled the town to promptly issue the temporary adult business license, as well as a temporary license for one employee, if all missing application materials had been provided
Attorney Greg Fifer, one of two attorneys representing the the town in two cases involving the adult business along U.S. 31, confirmed Tuesday evening before the council meeting that the completed materials had been received — they were missing a portion of the floor plan and locations of light fixtures, and the employee needed to submit his driver’s license and a photo — and that the town building commissioner was preparing the temporary license.
“My client is relieved that Clarksville is being required to follow the law and respect the constitution, and looks forward to the opportunity to operate in this historic location,” attorney Matt Hoffer, who represents Clarksville Ministries in the case, said in an email.
The license is good for 14 days from issuance.
But if they hadn’t received the license before Tuesday’s council meeting, Clarksville Ministries might not have been able to reopen at all in the building that’s been in operation at that site for 50 years. The previous owner, Midwest Entertainment Ventures, Inc., shuttered the business in mid-August following a county judge’s ruling upholding the town’s decision to revoke Theatair X’s business license for one year. That initial call for revocation came in 2019, after multiple zoning code violations including sex acts on the property, as well as a license suspension within the previous 12 months.
Clarksville Ministries filed its business application the next day, and Michael Sanchez, president of the Clarksville Ministries, has said they intend to sell sexually-themed merchandise and show on the big theater screens inside sexually-themed but non-obscene movies that may be related to the history and culture of the LGBTQ community. The new company told the News and Tribune they do not intend to operate the peep show booths that had been a central part of the previous litigation between the town and former owner.
The zoning update, recommended by the Clarksville Plan Commission last week and passed unanimously by the Clarksville Town Council Tuesday, widens the gap that must exist between adult businesses and certain other types of developments to 750 feet from 500 feet. This means that part of the current Theatair X building would be too close, although not all of the property would be in noncompliance.
But the ordinance also opens up much more space for other adult businesses to operate in the future at other sites, or part of that one. Town officials and the attorneys representing them in the cases involving Theatair X have said the litigation with Theatair X is not a moral issue. The zoning ordinance has not been updated in years, and the council wants to protect against unwanted secondary effects that can come with adult businesses, while also adhering to the First Amendment, which says they must provide space for them.
The new ordinance provides for more than 30 parcels zoned I-1 or I-2 — roughly 100 acres — to also hold an adult business. Prior to that change, the spot where Theatair X sits was the only parcel zoned for an adult business of that type. Town leaders previously realized that if another business applied for a license and was told there was one parcel and it was occupied, that could create legal issues, attorney Fifer said. When they began looking at updating the code using the 500-foot gap, they determined that would allow for too many locations where adult businesses could be located.
If Theatair X is issued an annual business license, it would allow two years for the business to do renovations or make needed changes to come into compliance with the new ordinance.