Friday, August 31, 2007

Return to Rosemont Manor: Look, Ma! I’m a Zoning Violation!

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #320, August 31, 2007)

For those narrow-minded types wondering how to deal with GLBT folk, leather folk, kinky folk and other undesirables who are ruining neighborhoods across this great nation, a judge in Hancock County, West Virginia, has a solution: zone them into oblivion.

When we last discussed (in Lavender issue 308) the continuing saga of Rosemont Manor, a bed-and-breakfast in Weirton, W. Va., things were not looking good. The city of Weirton had refused to renew owner Rose Susko’s business license and had revoked the property’s zoning variance allowing commercial use of the mansion. This effectively put Susko out of business. It also threw out on the street the various alternative-lifestyle groups that had made the mansion a popular venue for a variety of events.

The city took this action after a local TV station, WTOV9 (the NBC affiliate in Steubenville, Ohio and Wheeling, W. Va.), heard about a leather event being held at the mansion and broadcast a series of inflammatory “investigative” reports. (“One day it’s a place for weddings, the next day it can transform into a place for alternative living—including a place for nudists!”)

Susko appealed to the circuit court of Hancock County, W. Va. over the loss of her zoning variance and business license. On July 16, 2007, Judge Arthur M. Recht issued an Order in which the court stated it needed more information before it could make a final determination in the matter. Until then, the Court decided the most equitable thing for all concerned was to return to the status quo “as of the time petitioner [Susko] received her zoning permit.”

Unfortunately, the Court went along with the City of Weirton’s opinion that Susko was approved to operate a “Bed and Breakfast and Wedding/Reception Center.” In the opinion of the city, and the interim opinion of the court, those are the only functions for which the mansion may be used. The alternative-lifestyle events that had been held at the mansion somehow fell outside those parameters and were consequently forbidden. Neither the city nor the judge explained why receptions, i.e. parties after a wedding, are permitted but other kinds of parties are not.

The Court ordered the city to restore Susko’s zoning variance and to re-issue her business license. But the Court handed Susko a lengthy and discriminatory list of events, activities and people she was forbidden to host. The list puts many, if not most, of Lavender’s readers in the “prohibited” category.

Susko had promoted the mansion to the alternative-lifestyle community using a separate website called “” (now inactive). The Court compiled its list of prohibitions simply by forbidding anything mentioned on that site. Thus, “Petitioner [Susko] shall not carry on, allow, invite, or advertise for others to carry on [at the property] activities known as ‘BDSM, Fetish, Master/Slave, Lesbian/Gay Trans-gender, Fem-Dom, Leather, Swingers, Nudists, CFNM [clothed female-nude male], Barbeques, Munches, Parties, Meet-and-Greets, Play Space, Lectures, Seminars, Demonstrations, School, CFNM Parties’ or any other activity referred to in any version of any of the internet websites advertising any aspect of ‘Our House on the Hill.’ ”

Nosiree, none of that “alternative-living” carrying-on stuff here! Put out that grill—you’re not zoned for barbequeing. Tell that guest to take off that leather jacket—it’s against the rules. No gays, lesbians or transgender customers allowed—you could lose your license. All guests must remain fully clothed at all times—and that goes double for the men. Women may not act in a dominant fashion. And when anyone is eating they may chew but may not munch.

The Court also directed that websites promoting any of the above-mentioned activities at the mansion “shall be withdrawn and removed from the internet forthwith and shall not appear on the internet again unless authorized by this Court.” Never mind the freedom of speech, prior restraint and censorship issues—just take the site down.

Susko wonders why she is being singled out while every other lodging facility in the area is able to operate without such restrictions on clientele and activities. She also wonders how, if someone were to ask to rent a room for the night, she would be able to determine who they were and what they were going to do once they were in the room, so as not to violate this court order and her zoning.

After a summer of not being able to conduct business, Susko is once again open for bed-and-breakfast guests. The story isn’t over yet, and she soldiers on. She has visited area munches and lifestyle groups to tell her story and drum up support, saying “We can’t let them do this to us.”

You can show your support, if you’re in the Pittsburgh/eastern Ohio/northern West Virginia area, by stopping and spending some time at Rosemont Manor (<>). I’ll bet the view from the hill is lovely this time of year.

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