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Voyeur Dorm isn't subject to city's zoning law

By The Associated Press,
freedomforum.org staff

09.25.01

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TAMPA, Fla. — A voyeuristic Web site doesn't fall under the jurisdiction of local zoning laws on adult entertainment because its customers can't physically visit the premises, a federal appeals court panel ruled last week.

Reversing a U.S. District Court judge's ruling that favored Tampa in its two-year legal battle to shut down Voyeur Dorm, a three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta found the Web site can be based out of the house it calls home.

Because the public can't visit the actual house in which a group of college women live and are filmed, the city can't apply its local zoning ordinances that ban adult entertainment in that neighborhood, the appeals panel said.

The appeals panel, however, said its decision dealt only with the application of the city's adult-entertainment code and that it did not address the constitutional issue of using city codes to control adult entertainment on the Internet.

The ruling is the latest in the city's two-year legal battle to shut down Voyeur Dorm, which charges a monthly membership that allows subscribers to watch women undress, shower, sleep and socialize in a home wired with 30 or so cameras monitoring their movements around the clock.

Attorneys for the city and the Web site were not immediately available to comment.

The appeals panel wrote in its opinion that the case law Tampa used to support its position involved adult-entertainment venues where the customers physically attend the premises.

"As a practical matter, zoning restrictions are indelibly anchored in particular geographic locations. Residential areas are often cordoned off from business districts in order to promote a State's interest," the appeals ruling said. "It does not follow then that a zoning ordinance designed to restrict facilities that offer adult entertainment can be applied to a particular location that does not, at that location, offer adult entertainment.

"Indeed, the public offering occurs over the Internet in 'virtual space,'" the appeals panel said, adding that U.S. District Judge Susan Bucklew misapplied the ordinance when she ruled in November 2000 that Voyeur Dorm must move.

The Tampa City Council had upheld a zoning decision in August 1999 that the residentially zoned home on Farwell Drive was engaging in an "adult use." Lawyers for the Web site said it was the first time zoning rules were used to limit an Internet activity, and they then filed a federal lawsuit to block the city's efforts, according to the Tampa Tribune.

Update

Justices turn down look at Voyeur Dorm dispute
Tampa, Fla., city officials had sought to shut down Web site, saying house where five women are watched via the Internet is an adult business.  02.27.02

Previous

Roundup: Anti-abortion activists challenge Massachusetts buffer-zone law
Other First Amendment news from around the United States.  11.10.00

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