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County to pay bikini bar to settle suit
The county used improper tactics to thwart the Valrico bar's opening.
By BILL VARIAN, Times Staff Writer
Published September 22, 2007
TAMPA - Hillsborough government has agreed to settle a lawsuit with owners of a Valrico bikini bar that claimed the county took improper steps to thwart its opening.
Under terms of the settlement, still to be signed and approved by a judge, the county will pay Gemini Property Ventures $49,475. The county will admit no wrongdoing.
"We are excited that it certainly has the possibility to be resolved," said Hillsborough County Attorney Renee Lee.
Gemini owns Showgirls bikini bar on State Road 60. The bar opened early last year, amid protests from area residents, after a judge ruled that Gemini would likely win its lawsuit claiming that the county crossed a line in seeking to keep it from opening.
The county subjected the bar's contractors to multiple inspections; and a review of permit requests that should have taken weeks lasted months. Inspectors questioned everything from the size of the parking lot to the location of the septic system.
At one point, a county employee said that then-County Commissioner Ronda Storms asked him to delay giving bar owners the green light to open. Storms was subsequently cleared of wrongdoing by the Florida Commission on Ethics after a citizen filed a complaint.
Commissioners previously rejected an offer to settle the case.
Because the cash settlement is less than $50,000, it does not have to go to the County Commission for approval. But the settlement has been approved by a staff-level committee.
Luke Lirot, an attorney for Gemini Property Ventures, said settlement talks became easier after Storms left the board last year.
"Absent the litigation, the powers-that-used-to-be went out of their way to ensure that whatever my clients did, they would never be able to open to the public," Lirot said. "Every legitimate and illegitimate variable was used to try to deter them from opening their business."
Settling the case will allow Gemini Property Ventures, along with several other adult businesses, to continue pursuing a lawsuit against the county challenging a new public nudity ordinance.
The new law requires employees and owners of adult business to obtain licenses and sets stricter rules for governing their conduct.