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Strip club’s Prospective Owner in Lawsuit: ‘Nude dancing is protected speech’

BRIDGEPORT, Connecticut — from – For years, city officials have sought to limit the number of strip clubs and adult video outlets and bookstores in town. Like most nearby municipalities, Bridgeport relied on zoning rules to block adult establishments from residential neighborhoods and restrict the overall growth of those businesses.

Now, a businesswoman who planned to open a strip club on North Avenue is claiming the city’s strict regulations on where adult entertainment facilities can be located violate her constitutional rights.

Although Domenique Brazier, principal of 500 North Avenue LLC, never mentioned to the city’s zoning boards her intent to have topless or nude dancers at the cafe for which she was requesting a liquor permit, she has filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court alleging the city’s restriction on the location of adult entertainment facilities violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

“Nude dancing is protected speech,” said Daniel A. Silver, of Silver and Silver LLP, the attorney representing Brazier.

Brazier’s property lies in a mixed-use light industrial zone. Adult entertainment facilities in the city are only allowed in high industrial zones, located exclusively in sections of the South End and East End, with a special permit.

The Planning and Zoning Commission approved the liquor permit with a condition prohibiting adult entertainment at the site, a common condition placed by the P&Z upon bars, restaurants and cafes.

The P&Z’s other conditions, prohibiting billiard tables and requiring a floor-to-ceiling wall to divide the bar area from the rest of the establishment, are also being challenged in the lawsuit.

Silver said when the city adopted the current zoning regulations it failed to produce evidence to show that limiting the approved locations of these establishments would reduce any negative “secondary effects.”

“You can’t zone out these areas,” he said. Furthermore, Silver alleges, the proposed use should be allowed as a right and without the need for a special permit.

In cases of free speech, the city has no right to approve applications on a case-by-case basis, Silver said.

Similar cities and towns have similar regulations regarding adult entertainment facilities.

According to Stamford’s online zoning regulations, adult entertainment establishments are only allowed in industrial zones within the city and are subject to approval by the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals.

Other towns, like Bridgeport’s neighbor Stratford, which allows adult entertainment facilities in commercial and industrial zones, set distance limits instead of requiring a special permit.

The establishments cannot be larger than 5,000 square feet and must be located at least “1,000 feet from a residential district, church, park, playground, library, day care establishment, school for the instruction of children under 16 years of age or any place frequented by minors and a minimum of 2,000 feet between any of these uses.”

In Fairfield, a town ordinance bans adult entertainment establishments on sites less than 500 feet from residential zones, dwellings that enjoy pre-existing residential rights, schools, places of worship, public libraries and parks. These facilities also cannot be within 1,000 feet of each other.

Derby’s town ordinance prohibits such businesses within 250 feet of a residential zone or within 1,500 feet of a school. In Trumbull, such establishments are banned anywhere in town, said Zoning Enforcement Officer Fred Bietsch.

Bridgeport Zoning Official Dennis Buckley said most of the nine strip clubs and six adult book or video stores in the city were established before the zoning regulations became more restrictive, under former Mayor Joseph Ganim’s administration.

“Prior to 1996, they were allowed in what was known as the Business I zone, which was in many of the main arteries of the city,” including Main Street and Boston, Barnum, North and Fairfield Avenues, Buckley said.

Years later, the city restricted the establishments to light and heavy industrial sites, with a special permit before narrowing that down further to heavy industrial sites only.

In 2004, the P&Z considered changing the regulations yet again, this time to allow the establishments in more zones but with similar distance restrictions as contained in regulations in some neighboring towns.

The decision, spurred by a lawsuit filed on behalf of the owner of Teddie’s Cafe, 2068 East Main St., in U.S. District Court similar to the current suit, angered city residents and the City Council, who cited it as a reason for keeping the current restrictive regulations.

City officials also said the clubs were associated with a host of other problems and violations.

Shaker’s Cafe, on Barnum Ave., for example, was formerly known as Keystone Cafe, until that business was closed in 2004 after several raids in which police rounded up prostitutes at the East Side bar.

In May 2009, Shaker’s and Pleasant Moments on William Street were each fined and had their liquor licenses suspended for allegedly violating regulations on contact between dancers and patrons.

It wasn’t the first violation for the William Street strip club. In 2008, police raids ended with prostitution charges against three dancers and promoting prostitution charges against three others.

Raids in Main Street strip clubs R Place Café and Something Different Café, now Mystique Gentlemen’s Club, and Boston Avenue club Bishop’s Cafe in 2002 also resulted in 34 arrests for a variety of narcotics and prostitution charges.

More recently, the state Liquor Control Commission ordered Teddie’s liquor license revoked after an undercover police investigation last May charged that prostitution, lap dancing, indecent exposure and touching were taking place on the premises.


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