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Oasis Strip-club lawsuit in limbo a year later

Florida- from – A year after strip-club owner Terry Stephenson sued Destin to allow nude dancing at the Oasis on Mountain Drive, the dispute remains in court-ordered arbitration, as it has been since June.

“We can proceed (with arbitration) until one side declares an impasse,” City Manager Greg Kisela told The Log this week.

“Oasis continues to engage in good-faith settlement negotiations with the city,” said Stephenson’s attorney Gary Edinger. “We are not inclined to comment further.”

Stephenson, the owner of the Pin-Ups club in Atlanta, leases the Oasis from Destin charter captain Rocky Griffith. In November 2008, Stephenson applied for a city business license allowing nude dancing at the Oasis. The city turned him down — Mountain isn’t zoned for “adult entertainment” — and Stephenson filed suit.

Stephenson’s lawsuit said Destin’s restrictions on adult entertainment are “a not so thinly veiled effort to eliminate nude dancing in the city” which violates the First Amendment because it “eliminates accessibility to erotic speech and expression” in Destin. The suit says the city has offered no evidence that nude dancing would harm the community so there’s no “compelling government interest” in censoring it.

The city responded by redrafting its 1986 ordinance on nude or topless dancing to emphasize “secondary harm,” the idea that government is justified regulating erotic entertainment — including adult bookstores and sex-toy shops — because the patrons are “soft targets”:

•They’re often drunk, and frequently there after dark.
•They carry lots of cash.
•They’re predisposed to offers of drugs and prostitution.
•They won’t report crimes because they’re ashamed to be identified as patrons.

“Virtually every empirical study conducted in the last 30 years has found that (sexually oriented businesses) pose large, significant ambient crime risks,” researcher Richard McCleary said in a study the city cited in drafting a new ordinance.

Other studies draw different conclusions. The First Amendment Center says on its Web site that two Fulton County, Ga. studies found that regular bars generated more calls to police than strip clubs.

Destin’s 1986 ordinance prohibits exposing genitals, buttocks or the female breast “below the top of the areola” in any business “which sells alcoholic beverages for consumption on the premises.”

It also included a 500 foot buffer between nude-dancing and schools or churches. In addition, the only zoning that accepts adult entertainment is Airport Drive’s two Industrial districts.

The revised ordinance requires the owner and staff of sexually oriented businesses to all take out city licenses; prohibits nudity; allows seminudity if performers are at least six feet from the customers; bans alcohol from the premises; and imposes a 2 a.m. closing time.

The City Council passed the ordinance in January. In February, Edinger filed an injunction that said the city’s legal ads for hearings on the ordinance didn’t meet Florida requirements. The city said it had met the law, but repeated the approval process with revised legal ads; the council passed the new ordinance for the second time in March.

Several groups objected that the ordinance drops the 500 foot buffer. Kisela replied that because the Industrial zoning was so small, the buffer would ban nude dancing completely, and courts would throw the ordinance out. Judges have ruled that nude dancing has enough First Amendment protection that while it can be zoned and regulated, it can’t be banned outright.

In June, a judge ordered the two sides into arbitration. They’ve remained there ever since.

Stephenson’s attorneys admitted in one of the court filings that the club has occasional nude dancing, which would justify a code-enforcement citation if the dancers were caught in the act. Code-enforcement officers have been visiting the club since spring.

“We do go by periodically,” Code Enforcement Director David Bazylak told The Log this week, “during business hours … We have not seen anything. It’s been almost dead since we’ve been in there.”

Bazylak said that after hours checks were done by the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office, but he hadn’t heard of them spotting any nude dancing either.


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