At first glance, a public hearing Thursday night sounds like a barn-burner.
The hearing, as advertised, will address an amendment to the countys ordinances governing adult bookstores, adult entertainment establishments, adult theaters. It comes not long after the start of Augustas fight with owners of a new adult bookstore trying to move into town, and just a few weeks after Columbia County Republicans overwhelmingly voted to urge officials to reject any and all attempts to open porn stores here.
So, will there be fireworks Thursday as porn peddlers are sent packing?
Probably not. And thats too bad.
The public hearing takes place during a regular session of the countys Planning and Zoning Board Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at the Evans Government Complex. In spite of the language advertising the meeting, the original intention of the hearing, and the proposed revisions to the ordinance, actually have very little to do with porn.
Jeff Browning, director of planning and development for Columbia County, says the revisions are aimed more at industrial land use.
It all began about three months ago. School officials objected to an industrial rezoning near Columbia Middle School and Crossroads Academy, so planning officials began researching ways to keep some industrial uses away from schools and other such facilities.
Officials then made a discovery: Lo and behold, the areas we have restricted for adult entertainment already have these requirements, Browning says. The ordinance that protects schools, daycare centers and churches from smut parlors can easily be tweeked to protect them from gas storage facilities, exterminating businesses, slaughterhouses and junkyards.
What the planned revisions wont do is make it any tougher to put porn parlors in Columbia County. Not that the current rules are lax: Currently, such businesses can locate only in the general commercial C-2 zoning, and must meet the additional distance restrictions.
Browning says there was some discussion about further restricting porn to tougher C-3 zoning, but the countys attorneys warn such restrictions may allow too few possible locations to pass legal muster. There is a sense that you have to provide some level of opportunity for adult businesses to operate, Browning adds, lest a free-speech challenge overturn the law.
Well, lawyers are supposed to help keep the county out of court, and to help it win if it gets there. So the cautionary advice is understandable. But the countys elected officials have a duty to safeguard the community. If that means making the porn laws so tough that smut peddlers are forced to go to court before they can do business in Columbia County, so be it.
Bill Harrell, pastor of Abilene Baptist Church, puts it this way: The pornographers are always throwing down the gauntlet under the First Amendment, he says. Why dont the county commissioners throw down the gauntlet, and tell the pornographers theyre not coming here without a fight?
Were with Harrell, and we believe Columbia County citizens agree: Pornography and so-called adult entertainment have no place in our community. County officials should go ahead and toughen those industrial-zoning provisions to keep slaughterhouses away from schools - and then fight to keep flesh-peddlers out of the county.
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