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The naked truth: Exotic dance measure is just status quo

By C.T. BOWEN

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 8, 2001


The first adult entertainment venue popped up in Hudson in 1990, the same year Pinellas County enacted tougher controls on sexually oriented businesses.

Coincidence?

Not likely. As Pinellas County cracked down, bars with go-go girls as the featured entertainment became more common in western Pasco. The lingerie studios and X-rated video stores soon followed and now number about a dozen.

But the focus of public outcry is the Suncoast Lingerie modeling studio. Located in the former home of the Hudson Chamber of Commerce, the studio is near the entrance to the Sea Ranch neighborhood. Last week, its Web site promised opportunities to view acts of lesbian sex, urination and bondage.

In response, Pasco County commissioners are rewriting their own adult entertainment ordinance and basing it on the court-tested controls from elsewhere.

The model? Pinellas County.

Court-tested is key since attorney Luke Lirot, representing four adult businesses, has promised a legal challenge to the Pasco ordinance after its expected adoption March 20. The 18-month grace period for the first portion of the county's controls -- requiring adult businesses to locate in industrial zones -- expires next month. After that, the current businesses will be considered in violation.

A single lawsuit challenging both ordinances is anticipated. At a workshop Tuesday afternoon, commission Chairman Steve Simon acknowledged Pasco is opening up "to horrible levels of litigation."

Nobody disagreed, though the board did offer a few other observations.

Are we sending the wrong message toward economic development by requiring adult businesses in industrial parks?

No worse than the message sent by the annual budget for industrial recruitment.

Is there a nudism industry in Erie, Pa.?

They've obviously never been to Erie.

This was asked because the legal staff waited on the ordinance until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on an Erie law banning public nudity. Commissioners do not want to stifle the booming nudism industry in central Pasco.

Can the county look at the business' sales tax receipts?

"You can't say, 'I'm selling lingerie or modeling it for sale,' and not have any sales," noted Commissioner Peter Altman, an accountant.

The club owners had their own take on things. Institute all these controls and we'll stop serving liquor and let the dancers go totally nude, they threatened at an advisory committee meeting two weeks ago. State law prohibits nude dancing in establishments that serve alcohol.

Commissioners, however, paid little attention to the buff bluff.

But the biggest question was not asked publicly. After the 18-month grace period expires, will the county allow the current businesses to remain in their current locations via a grandfather clause? It's likely to be a core issue in any lawsuit.

By the way, the oddball observations weren't limited to Tuesday's discussion. Here's a sample of the arguments posed in a 1991 lawsuit from five dance clubs in Pinellas that contended the ordinance there was too restrictive:

Those businesses "believe that the presentation of exotic dance is a beneficial social activity which can, and usually does, create an improved self-image for the dancer, and joy and entertainment for the beholder," the lawsuit read. Improved self-image for the dancer? Are we talking about exotic entertainment or social work?

The proposed Pasco ordinance mirrors many of the controls the county used in the past. Dancers must cover the front and bottom of their breasts. Physical contact with customers is prohibited. Those rules, though, were repealed when the county adopted the zoning ordinance 17 months ago.

The county's legal staff maintains a new local law governing activities inside the businesses is needed because the old rules were unenforceable and highly susceptible to a legal challenge.

Still, the county did enforce them in the mid 1990s, sending code enforcement officers into the nightclubs and requiring dancers showing too much skin to cover up.

It was short-lived. By late 1998, dancers wore clear pasties and T-backs while straddling customers' laps, all violations of the county ordinance. Meanwhile, adult video stores had located in close proximity to residential neighborhoods or other adult businesses, prohibited under the zoning controls.

Though it includes some new provisions, the proposed ordinance essentially is a rewrite of a law that existed previously, had been enforced successfully though sporadically and had never been challenged in court.

So, why shouldn't this be labeled status quo?

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