County takes aim at swingers

New definitions of sex businesses means regulation could follow.

By DAVID DECAMP, Times Staff Writer
Published January 23, 2008

NEW PORT RICHEY - One by one, people opined Tuesday about the proposed stricter definitions for sexually oriented businesses in Pasco, avoiding the impetus for the discussion like it was an elephant in the room.

Or in this case, like it was a Port Richey swingers club named Club Elite.

"I think we all know what the issues are," former Port Richey Mayor Mark Abbott told the County Commission. "Just make the wise decisions."

After a short public hearing with the commentary ranging from nudist resorts to community morality, the County Commission voted 5-0, with little debate, to approve the new definitions.

The blush-inducing language includes new definitions to better identify what constitutes a "sexually oriented business," a distinction that means the county can regulate where the establishment is located. The proposed definitions identify exposure of specific body parts and specific sexual activities.

But nobody on Tuesday mentioned Club Elite, which is above a bakery, a deli and a dentist in a U.S. 19 commercial strip. Its Web site openly promotes its activities for swingers, though its attorney has said Club Elite is not a sexually oriented business - legally speaking.

After it opened last year, neighbors complained and authorities investigated. But they said they couldn't shut down the club under Pasco's code unless something illegal was seen.

The code limits new adult businesses to industrial areas, but the county has to prove a business is sexually oriented before it can be restricted.

When the new definitions were unveiled in December, county officials acknowledged they were targeted at Club Elite. But this month, assistant county attorney Kristi Wooden and County Commissioner Jack Mariano, whose district includes the club, wouldn't say so. Wooden only said Tuesday the changes allowed the county to enforce its ordinance.

Nor would Commission Chairman Ted Schrader or other officials say they were keeping quiet to perhaps avoid legal stickiness over passing a law that singles out a specific business.

And while Schrader acknowledged the public knowledge of Club Elite, the explicit nature of the new definitions made a discussion inappropriate, he said afterward.

"Fortunately, we didn't have to go into detail," he said.

Wooden and Commissioner Pat Mulieri stressed that the new definitions of prohibited activities would not apply to nudist communities and resorts, which are allowed in county code.

David Decamp can be reached at ddecamp@sptimes.com or 727 869-6232.

Fast facts

In other business Tuesday:

Firefighters' legal bill: The county has to pay $30,000 for the firefighters union's attorneys' fees after losing a battle over a raise. County officials withheld a 2.5 percent salary increase from the firefighters, even though other employees got the raise, because they were in contract negotiations. The state ruled the firefighters should have gotten that raise.

New top attorney: County Attorney Jeffrey Steinsnyder participated in his first meeting Tuesday, replacing Robert Sumner, who retired this month. The board also honored chief assistant county attorney Barbara Wilhite, who was bypassed for the top job. She is leaving to work for a law firm in Tampa.