Yellowstone County commissioners are taking steps to begin regulating strip clubs as adult businesses under zoning rules.

During their regular meeting Tuesday, commissioners adopted a resolution of intent to amend the city-county zoning ordinance to classify strip bars as adult-oriented businesses. That would put strip bars in the same category as adult arcades, adult bookstores and theaters that show sexually explicit films. Strip bars were somehow omitted from the definition of adult-oriented businesses in the current zoning regulations.

Under the amended zoning ordinance, strip clubs and other sexually oriented businesses wouldn't be allowed in areas that are zoned for suburban agriculture, residential areas and mixed-use areas, or within 1,000 feet of a library, park, playground, school, day-care center or church. The ordinance also prevents a sexually oriented business from being operated within 600 feet of another sexually oriented business.

Under the amended zoning ordinance, sexually oriented businesses would be allowed in areas zoned highway commercial, controlled industrial, heavy industrial and central business district.

Commissioners have been exploring ways to limit strip bars ever since Planet Lockwood, a bar and casino at 1127 N. Frontage Road, opened a "gentleman's club" late last year featuring topless and nude dancing.

Commissioners have asked whether the county has the legal authority to ban nude dancing in establishments that serve alcohol. Deputy County Attorney Mark English said Tuesday that the Department of Revenue, which regulates liquor establishments, has concluded that counties probably don't have the authority to prevent the sale of alcoholic beverages in businesses that offer nude dancing. The Department of Revenue issued its opinion at his request, English said.

Now commissioners plan to seek an attorney general's opinion about whether county commissioners have any legal authority to regulate or ban nude dancing.

Under state law, counties have only general governing powers that have been granted to them by the state. Cities have more authority to draft and enact their own ordinances. Yellowstone County's request for the attorney general's opinion will likely focus on what governing powers the county has to ban nude dancing, English said.

Tom Howard can be reached at 657-1261 or at thoward@billingsgazette.com

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