BY ARTHUR S. LEONARD | Introducing a significant new chapter into a two-decade legal saga dating back to the Giuliani administration, the Manhattan-based First Department of the New York State Appellate Division has ruled that the city’s controversial 1995 adult uses zoning ordinance, as amended in 2001, violates the US Constitution’s First Amendment free speech guarantee.
In a July 21 ruling, written by Justice Barbara R. Kapnick, the 3–2 majority affirmed a 2012 ruling by the late New York County Supreme Court Justice Louis B. York, and permanently enjoined the city from enforcing the amendments.
The panel has tossed a political hot potato to the de Blasio administration, which must decide whether to ask the Court of Appeals, the state’s highest bench, to review the ruling.
Origins of City’s Adult Zoning Regulations
Prior to 1995, New York City made no distinction between sexually-oriented adult businesses and other enterprises under its zoning ordinances. Adult businesses could locate anywhere in the city, and some residents and officials thought there were too many such businesses concentrated in prime commercial and residential locations.
In 1993, responding to US Supreme Court rulings that zoning restrictions on adult businesses could be imposed if local governments showed that their presence caused undesirable “secondary effects” — such as increased crime, decreased property values, reduced commercial activities and erosion of community character — the city’s Department of City Planning “began a comprehensive assessment of the impact of adult establishments on the quality of urban life,” reporting a year later it had found such negative effects.