By gathering hundreds more than the 2,000 signatures needed to call a vote, the SVP hopes to block what it sees as the injudicious use of public funds.
Plans to open the new district and end prostitution in the Sihlquai district, behind the main railway station, were scheduled for the spring of 2012.
Police and social services had opposed the idea of a referendum, arguing that a popular vote would likely prolong the lifespan of the seedy Sihlquai kerb-crawling district by at least three more months.
The so-called “performance stalls”, set to be kitted out with parking spaces and alarm buttons, would be the first of their kind in Switzerland if the project is accepted by Zurich voters. The facility would alos include an on-site counselling service for prostitutes.
The head of Zurich's social affairs department, socialist councillor Martin Waser said he is convinced that citizens “will vote clearly in favour” of the project because the problems in Sihlquai are “well known”.
“The situation cannot continue, neither for the sake of the prostitutes nor those living in the area,” he told newspaper Tages Anzeiger.
On September 14th, the city parliament voted 74 to 30 in favour of seeking a 2.4 million franc ($2.8m) loan to finance the scheme, which proponents argued would expedite the closure of the unpopular Sihlquai red light district in the city centre.
Most parties voted in favour of the loan, but the project met with resistance from the Swiss People’s Party (SVP), the Evangelical People’s Party (EVP) and the Swiss Democrats (SD).
Arguing against the drive-in stalls, SVP Alstetten councillor Ruth Anhorn said prostitution is a private matter that should not be supported with public money.
“It is about the oldest profession in society. The taxpayer should not co-finance a bordello,” she told the newspaper at the time.
All politicians agreed on one point, however: kerb-crawling at the Sihlquai red light district in the city centre must come to an end.
Politicians, police, social workers and members of the public have all raised concerns about unregulated prostitution in the city centre, which they say has led to sex trafficking, safety issues, and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.
The city council must now decide when the referendum will take place. The earliest possible date will be March 11th 2012.