A Canadian company's plan to open a so-called robot brothel in Houston has been short circuited by city leaders.
Houston's City Council on Wednesday updated one local ordinance to specifically ban individuals from having sex with an "anthropomorphic device," a device that resembles a human being, at a sexually-oriented business. But the change wouldn't ban the company from selling the dolls for use elsewhere.
The company, KinkySdollS, had previously said it wants to open a "love dolls brothel" in Houston in which people would be able to use its human-like dolls at a business that has drawn comparisons to the robotic hosts on the science fiction series "Westworld."
It would have been the company's second location. The first location opened in 2017 in Toronto. On its web site, the company says it provides an "adult love dolls rent before you buy service."
On its web site, KinkySdollS says its human-like dolls, which can speak and feel warm to the touch, are available for sale or rent. The dolls can cost more than $3,000 each.
KinkySdollS, didn't immediately return emails seeking comment Wednesday.
Before the City Council unanimously approved the change to the ordinance, council member Greg Travis called the proposed robot brothel "weird" and "gross."
Travis said he believed that most residents don't want the business to open in Houston.
"We are not sin city," Travis said.
Officials said they are not trying to legislate morality with the updated ordinance.
Mayor Sylvester Turner said a business could sell such robotic devices but individuals couldn't use them at the premises before buying them.
"We want businesses to come. But then they're some that we say, 'You know it's fine if you go someplace else,'" said Turner, who has been part of a chorus of local leaders and community groups that have pushed back against the robot brothel, which would have been the first such business in the U.S.
Elijah Rising, a Houston-based nonprofit focused on ending sex trafficking, has started a Change.org petition asking that the business be kept out of the city. The petition has received more than 13,500 signatures.
The city ordinance that was updated deals with the regulation of adult arcades and adult mini-theatres in Houston and classifies a robot as an arcade device.
Turner said the change in the ordinance was not targeted at any one particular business but targeted "at this type of behavior than any business of this kind would engage in."
Houston has long had a culture that's resistant to regulation and remains the only major U.S. city without zoning. Turner has said that this lack of zoning might have been one of the reasons why the owners of the robot brothel thought to try to open it in Houston.
Construction of the site for the proposed robot brothel had already begun but was stopped after city inspectors visited the location and determined the business owners didn't have the proper permits, Houston's public works department said last week.
The business has made no attempts to purchase permits for the construction work that occurred previously, but all work has stopped, Houston public works department spokeswoman Erin Jones said in an email Wednesday.