Fort Mill Times

Hwy. 51 club draws officials' glare

The Carolina Conference and Reception Center at 3490 Hwy. 51 is raising eyebrows again.

Six years ago, the Fort Mill Times reported that law enforcement officials were keeping an eye on the business looking for evidence of prostitution. The center plays hosts to weekend parties for "swingers" couples who swap sex partners. At the time, York County Sheriff Bruce Bryant said there was no evidence of any laws being broken, just consenting adults engaging in adult behavior in a private club.

But recently, investigators went to the club looking for violations of another kind. York County Zoning Administrator Dave Pettine confirmed staff in his office accompanied S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control health inspectors to the property to inspect the kitchen area of the conference center for possible violations.

DHEC officials did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

Two messages left for the property's owner, Robert Sparrow of Charlotte, were not returned. Also, no one responded to messages left on voice mail for Carolina Friends, the "lifestyle" club that has been using the center for get-togethers since 2002.

York County Multijurisdictional Drug Enforcement Unit Director Marvin Brown said officers in his unit had also recently been to the conference center and were allowed in to "look around." They found nothing illegal, he said.

Brown said his office remains concerned about activities at the center.

County authorities are also probing for any zoning violations. The property has been zoned for Urban Development since its "Fort Vegas" days as the Grand Castle video poker parlor. UD is a zoning designation that basically allowed property owners to do whatever they want with their property, with few exceptions. It is also a zoning designation that has fallen out of favor with county planners and the York County Council, Pettine said.

"It ranges from heavy industrial to multifamily to allowing the manufacture of explosives," Pettine said. "It's almost a potpourri of all the different zoning uses."

In recent years, authorities, have shut down video poker centers and a brothel operating out of a massage parlor. Since then, an upscale restaurant, Christian theater and a fitness center have opened in what used to be referred to as the Fort Vegas area.

However, one of the few things not allowed in UD districts are adult entertainment establishments. Those are only allowed in areas zoned BD-III.

So the question for officials is whether or not a conference center used by a "lifestyle" club for sex parties falls under the category of adult entertainment. Does the establishment have to provide the "entertainment," or can it be provided by the clientele?

"It's a tricky one," Pettine said.