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Houston Changes Land-Use Ordinance for Businesses to Stop 'Love Dolls Brothel'

Move Shows How Biggest U.S. City With No Zoning Copes With Development Issues
October 3, 2018
The city of Houston is extending regulations to cover a proposed, self-described love dolls brothel at 5615 Richmond Ave. Credit: Kyle Hagerty, CoStar.

Houston, the nation's largest city with no zoning laws, often allows businesses freedom in choosing where they locate. Now it's wrestling with the latest consequences stemming from that development approach as city leaders push back against a self-described love dolls brothel that may be the first of its kind in the nation.

The Houston City Council voted on Wednesday to broaden the city's definition of "adult arcade devices" to include "anthropomorphic devices or objects."

The expanded definition means the business, Toronto-based KinkySDollS, will be subject to Houston’s limited land-use regulations. In this case, the regulations at hand prevent a sexually oriented business from operating within 1,500 feet of churches, schools, parks, day cares and residential neighborhoods. Anderson Park's baseball diamond and playground are located a few hundred feet from the entrance of the proposed business.

The company has applied to open in a two-story building about 1.5 miles from The Galleria, one of the largest malls in the United States. As a result of the vote, the business that seeks to operate at unit 265 at 5615 Richmond Ave. as KinkySDollS might not open in its proposed form.

The business, which sells animatronic sex dolls, planned to let potential customers try out different models of the dolls before they place an order. The owner has stated in interviews with media outlets that potential customers can try out the dolls on the premises for a fee of $80 to $120 per hour, which is the case at the company's location in Toronto.

The ordinance that passed on Wednesday specifically prevents the try-before-you-buy business model.

Mayor Sylvester Turner made his feelings about the business clear before the city council vote, saying "we all want businesses to come to our city but there are some where we say it's fine if you go someplace else."

He added that "this is very carefully crafted to deal with any business or commercial element that falls within this category" because with changing technology the ordinance that came into existence in 1999 was no longer effective.

While the nation's fourth-largest city has no specific zoning laws, a municipality of that size functions through adapting land-use regulations as a tool to deal with the needs of development on such a large scale. That's what the city council has been wrestling with this week.

KinkySDollS hit its first obstacle last week when the city issued a stop order on all construction work. Mary Benton, press secretary at the mayor’s office, said a representative from the company visited the Houston Permitting Center to apply for an occupancy inspection. Benton said city officials visited unit 265 to find work had begun without a permit. It was determined that the business would need to apply for a demolition permit and submit plans prior to further work.

The two-story building at the southwest corner of Richmond and Chimney Rock Road, originally built in 1978, features ground-floor retail on the first floor and office space on the second. On Friday, lumber, a high-powered vacuum and various tools were sitting around unit 265.

The company's owner, Yuval Gavriel, wrote on Facebook that he planned to open the business in Houston. A post with typographical errors dated Aug. 26 on the Facebook account linked to the business reads: “KINKYSDOLLS THE FIRTST LOVE DOLLS BROTHEL TORONTO / CANADA / Huston TX USA”

KinkySDollS is one of several makers of sex dolls ranging in price from $4,000 to $20,000. Neither Gavriel nor the owner of the building at 5615 Richmond stated on county property records, Elite VS Capital Investment, responded to requests for comment.

"We're ready as soon as we get the get-go," Gavriel was quoted by the Washington Examiner in an article published Sept. 17. "We’re legal people."

Gavriel, who wants to open 10 locations by 2020, said his lawyer examined U.S. laws and regulations and determined that none prohibit the business at the federal or state level.

The United States "is a bigger market, and a healthier market" than Canada, Gavriel told the newspaper.

A push to stop KinkySDollS is being led by Elijah Rising, a Houston nonprofit dedicated to ending sex trafficking. The organization started a petition that now has more than 9,000 signatures.

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