Not unexpectedly, the Umatilla City Council enacted a moratorium temporarily banning adult sex entertainment businesses from opening in the city at its Tuesday meeting. Now, the fun really begins.

First of all, the moratorium was hardly a surprise, considering the debate the issue of adult sex entertainment businesses, specifically strip clubs on Sixth Street, has generated the past month or so.

One of the problems is the city currently does not have anything in its zoning codes addressing those types of businesses and where they can open in Umatilla. Many residents are concerned, with two strip clubs and a couple of other adult businesses on Umatilla’s main drag, the city’s image is being tarnished.

Now, city officials have 120 days to develop land-use regulations for businesses that restrict minors in Umatilla.

Despite many residents’ wishes, it seems to be generally understood that strip clubs and similar establishments cannot be banned outright.

On the other hand, this is an emotional issue that people feel strongly about, but city officials must be objective when moving ahead, especially when determining the most suitable location for these businesses.

Whether you’re talking about adult sex businesses or establishments restricting minors, that’s a good question, especially when you factor in Umatilla’s size and current layout. Presumably, Sixth Street is no longer an option. And if you factor in people’s sensibilities — no strip clubs near schools or churches has been bandied about — then the options become even more limited.

Because this is such an emotional issue, it is understandable how people may be tempted to impose so many regulations that, even if these businesses aren’t banned altogether, that becomes the result by default.

This is where an impersonal approach becomes critical because the city needs to avoid opening itself up to a lawsuit.

The matter has already attracted the interest of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon, which notified city officials in a letter earlier this month, they could face litigation if the moratorium ordinance was approved. So, it is a sure bet that if any future zoning regulations are deemed too prohibitive, a legal battle will ensue.

Therefore, city officials should avoid limiting where these establishments can open to such an extent that it becomes impossible for them to do so because no permissible location in town actually exists. In other words, they cannot be restricted to industrial areas situated on streets beginning with the letter Z that do not fall within a 20-mile radius of schools, churches, residences, parks or any common area in which animals, minerals or vegetables may be found.

Clearly, this won’t fly.

The best solution should be one that is reasonable, even if it means nobody is quite happy with the end result. The place to start is with logical, rational discussion.

— Jessica Keller is the editor of the Hermiston Herald. She can be reached at jkeller@hermistonherald.com

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