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Proposal broadens nudity ban

Commissioners want to squelch public nudity before it blossoms. And, no, dental floss is not sufficient clothing.

By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published April 7, 2002


Calendar Girls. Lollipops. The Players Club.

Hernando County leaders know well the names of the adult businesses that dot the Pasco County landscape. They understand equally well the troubles their Pasco counterparts have faced in regulating those enterprises.

This week, Hernando officials will take steps toward stopping such problems here before they begin.

On Monday, the Planning and Zoning Commission will consider replacing the county's one-page, 25-year-old rule that bans nudity in businesses with a more restrictive 12-page proposal that would prohibit nudity in all public places.

The new regulations also would bar clubs from featuring lap dancing or other sexually oriented activity. They would not seek to stop public nudity in only two situations: the communication of a "genuine massage" as protected by the Florida and U.S. constitutions, and a mother's breast-feeding of her child.

County commissioners will take up the proposed ordinance a day later.

"I asked Garth (Coller, the county attorney) to take a look at the ordinances when he first got here, to make sure they are tight and protect our community, knowing our community has concerns," commission Chairwoman Nancy Robinson said.

Coller assigned the task to Kent Weissinger, a senior assistant county attorney, who said he immediately began the research. Weissinger explained his goal was to write something that could withstand any court challenge.

Ultimately, he grabbed much of the language from St. Johns County on Florida's northeast coast.

"This one is clearly defensible," Weissinger said, noting the ordinance had withstood scrutiny of both state and federal appellate courts. "It also appears to cover -- no pun intended -- every issue we could possibly want to cover."

The rule has been ready for quite some time, he said. "I just hadn't had any specific direction from the board until a short while ago."

About three weeks ago, pastor Mike Frazier of Landmark Baptist Church, west of Brooksville, complained to commissioners after seeing a male stripper with his rear end totally exposed outside Miss Kitty's Lounge & Package in Brooksville. Frazier called for rules to protect "decent, morally minded families" from sexually explicit businesses and public behavior.

In response, Commissioner Betty Whitehouse asked the Legal Department to review all pertinent ordinances to make sure they provide sufficient restrictions. The commission had not changed its rules since 1985, when it adopted regulations for adult-oriented businesses, such as bookstores and movie theaters.

The resulting proposal, which would not affect the city of Brooksville, opens with 27 introductory clauses geared toward showing that the county has considered the problematic effects of allowing uncontrolled nudity within the community.

It states, in part, that "the board is aware of evidence from other communities that indicates that nudity and sexual conduct, coupled with alcohol in public places, begets undesirable behavior, and that prostitution, attempted rape, rape and assault have occurred and have the potential for occurring in and around establishments dealing in alcoholic beverages where nude and sexual conduct is permitted."

It also notes that appearing nude in public places remains contrary to generally accepted behavior in Hernando County, which is a family-oriented place to live and visit.

After describing those concerns, the rule offers detailed definitions of all the relevant terms, from "alcoholic beverage" to "buttocks" to "public place." The definition of "nude" makes clear that certain items, such as dental floss and tattoos, are insufficient cover.

The sections that actually set forth the prohibitions fill less than two pages. Nudity and sexual conduct would be banned in all businesses that sell alcoholic beverages, and people would not be permitted to appear or cause someone else to appear nude "in a public place or in any other place which is readily visible to the public."

These places include streets, sidewalks, parks, beaches, business and commercial establishments, clubs, hotels, motels, restaurants, nightclubs, country clubs, cabarets and organization meeting rooms. Hotel rooms and other areas used solely as private residences would not fall under the rule.

An exception also would be granted to places set apart for nudity, such as a locker room, so long as a person does not appear nude for money or financial gain.

The document ends with a bunch of legal requirements about enacting the rule.

The proposed ordinance can be viewed at the Hernando County Government Center, local libraries or on the county Web site at www.co.hernando.fl.us/ in the "Agenda and Minutes" section for Tuesday's meeting.

Commissioner Diane Rowden said she had some problems with the ordinance as written. She noted, for instance, that the rule would require a woman to cover at least one-fourth of her breast surrounding the nipple area, and all people would have to cover at least one-third of their buttocks.

"Who is going to measure?" Rowden asked, suggesting such rules could be easy to skirt.

Planning and Zoning Commission Chairman Bob DeWitt, whose board also will hear the proposal this week, said the ordinance seemed reasonable to him.

Many things do not require government interference, DeWitt said.

"But I don't think we want a nude beach at Pine Island," he continued. "This ordinance would protect those people who want to go out there and have a good time. We're a nice community, and I can't see a problem with it."

DeWitt had just one question he intended to bring up, regarding whether a nudist camp would be prohibited by the proposal. The ordinance does not mention such developments specifically.

Robinson said the time is right to look into this issue and tighten the rules.

"As growth happens, those kinds of establishments can want to move north," she said. "We've seen that in Pasco."

The Planning and Zoning Commission will have a public hearing on the proposed ordinance at 10:30 a.m. Monday. The County Commission will conduct hearings at 10:45 a.m. Tuesday, and again at 5 p.m. April 23. Each session will take place in the commission chambers, 20 N. Main St., Brooksville.

-- Jeffrey S. Solochek covers Hernando County government and can be reached at 754-6115. Send e-mail to solochek@sptimes.com.

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