Verify: Sex shops and zoning in Houston

Can a sex shop open in any Houston neighborhood?

HOUSTON - Anyone who’s ever been anywhere near the Galleria has probably seen the blue and pink building that’s home to Zone d’Erotica. The store, which describes itself as “a luxury lingerie and adult novelty boutique,” is now up for lease.

The sex shop, located at Loop 610 and Westheimer, sits next to the Galleria, a 902-foot skyscraper and several upscale hotels and restaurants. It is also just blocks away from homes.

It’s often cited as a hallmark example of Houston’s lack of zoning laws.

Since the property’s real estate listing went live earlier in April, it’s started a lot of conversation about zoning laws in Houston. But can a sex shop, like Zone d’Erotica, really open in any Houston neighborhood?

To find that answer, KHOU spoke to two City of Houston officials: Anna Sedillo, Communications Coordinator with the Planning and Development department; and Lara Cottingham, Deputy Assistant Director with the Administration & Regulatory Affairs department.

Cottingham told KHOU that under the city’s code, Zone d’Erotica is not classified as a sexually-oriented business. Those business must have a permit to operate and follow strict location and signage restrictions.

Cottingham believes that’s because most of Zone d’Erotica’s business comes from clothing, even though the store does sell sex toys and other explicit items.

A representative for the Zone d’Erotica confirmed that the store is not classified as a sexually oriented business and said it’s protected under the First Amendment. He claimed opening that type of store in Houston is as easy as opening a coffee shop.

So, KHOU can verify that a store like Zone D’Erotica can set up shop pretty much anywhere in Houston.

However, Sedillo provided some context for the city's zoning laws: 

  • Just because Houston doesn’t have zoning laws doesn’t mean the city allows a development free-for-all.
  • Neighborhood deed restrictions are a big tool that could keep a business of any kind from setting up shop next door.
  • Because there’s no zoning, the city regulates development by using codes that address how property can be subdivided.

The representative with Zone d’Erotica emphasized that he doesn’t want to open in an area that doesn’t want his store. He said this is out of respect for people living there and because it’s bad for business.

VERIFY: Sources

Anna Sedillo, Communications Coordinator with the Planning and Development department

Lara Cottingham, Deputy Assistant Director with the Administration & Regulatory Affairs department                  

VERIFY: Resources

Zone d’Erotica property listing

Houston Code of Ordinances for a sexually orientated business


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