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Judge: LEHT board must rule on strip club

TOMS RIVER, NJ – A Superior Court judge on Friday ordered the Little Egg Harbor Township Zoning Board to decide within 60 days whether to grant a variance to build a strip club in the town.

However, Judge Eugene Serpentelli refused to grant Joseph E. Shamy’s Route 539 Development LLC protection from prosecution should it decide to go forward with construction of the club, saying the company hadn’t met the legal burden required for such an order. Ira Weiner, a lawyer for the company, had argued that delay of the construction process constituted a violation of free-speech rights.

“When you go back in front of a board for a variance hearing, you place First Amendment freedoms at the discretion of a local zoning board,” Weiner said.

But Serpentelli declined to consider a possible constitutional argument against Little Egg Harbor’s ordinance restricting the location of sexually oriented businesses, saying it is too early in the legal process for a constitutional challenge.

“There is no case law that would suggest we pull certain cases out of the board of (zoning) adjustment because they involve constitutional issues,” Serpentelli said.

On Feb. 15, the Zoning Board dismissed Shamy’s application for a variance to the township’s ordinance, saying it had no jurisdiction to grant one in this matter because the town’s law is based on a state statute.

That board meeting was attended by roughly 1,000 people, many of whom showed up to protest the proposed club.

Shamy’s lawyers contend the town law, which prohibits sexually oriented businesses within 1,000 feet of residential areas, schools and places of worship, results in an unreasonably small number of potential locations for an adult business within the township.

Part of Friday’s court hearing in Toms River included discussion of just how many establishments like the one Shamy plans to bring to Little Egg Harbor are located within a 20-mile radius of the intended site. Weiner argued that several businesses mentioned by the town shouldn’t count in such considerations, as they are either adult video stores or bikini bars that do not feature actual nudity, and thus unlike the proposed club.

That discussion led to one of the more humorous moments in Friday’s proceedings. Serpentelli asked Michael Gilmore, attorney for the township, how he arrived at a list of sexually oriented businesses in the radius. Gilmore replied he had conducted an Internet search for “New Jersey strip clubs.”

The judge said he had conducted a similar search while preparing for the hearing and run up against the court computer system’s program that blocks explicit material. If the program recognizes certain trigger words, Serpentelli said, “Boy, you’re not getting into that site.”

would be located on 23.3 acres of land on the east side of Route 539, just south of the Garden State Parkway.

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