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Thee Dollhouse Fights City attempt to move it

Sunny Isles Beac, Florida- For nearly two decades, Thee Dollhouse gentleman’s club has greeted drivers entering the city of Sunny Isles Beach from the 163rd Street causeway — to the dismay of some public officials who want the all-nude venue to move across town.

City leaders are weighing whether to create a specially designated area for adult entertainment businesses — away from the city’s gateway and onto its main drag on Collins Avenue.

”The business is not being banned from our city,” Commissioner Roslyn Brezin said at Tuesday’s commission meeting. “What we are asking you to do is change the locale for what is best for our city.”

But the owners of Thee Dollhouse — the city’s sole strip club — are fighting back.

”The club has been there for close to 20 years and it’s not harmed anybody. The city is flourishing around it,” said Daniel Aaronson, a First Amendment attorney hired to represent Thee Dollhouse.

City officials are more concerned with image than legality, Aaronson said. Commissioners ”don’t want people to drive into the city, and one of the first things they see is the club,” he said in an interview this week.

”And that is not a good enough reason,” he said.

The club’s current location is not zoned for adult entertainment, said City Attorney Hans Ottinot.

Under federal law, municipalities cannot ban adult establishments. But they can regulate where and how those businesses operate in order to protect the public from increased crime and lower property values, Ottinot said.

He acknowledged that Thee Dollhouse has not been a nuisance to the city, but said “that doesn’t preclude us from regulating them.”

”We saw from research that we could make life really uncomfortable for adult use. But we didn’t want to do that,” said Ottinot, who said he has spent years researching the matter at the behest of Mayor Norman Edelcup. “We feel we have reached a middle ground. We regulate them, but allow them to survive.”

Attorneys for Thee Dollhouse say that argument doesn’t wash.

Norman Powell, a land use attorney hired by the club, argued the new rules would effectively shut the business down.

Club owners, he said, are willing to work with the city in order to stay put, at 255 Sunny Isles Blvd. Some possible concessions include moving the entrance away from the street and updating the facade to make the building more attractive.

Powell argued that because it predates the city’s 1997 incorporation, the club is grandfathered in — and therefore should not be subject to any zoning regulations, Powell said.

Commissioners unanimously gave preliminary approval to establish an adult entertainment area within the city’s town center district, which includes retail businesses such as the newly opened Epicure Gourmet market and a Starbucks.

Not all commissioners were sold on the potential move.

”My question is, do we want it in our town center?” said Gerry Goodman, who ultimately voted for preliminary approval.

If approved, strip clubs — as well as adult video stores and other adult-themed businesses — would only be allowed between Sunny Isles Boulevard and 172nd Street, on the west side of Collins Avenue.

Such businesses would not be allowed to operate within 500 feet of one another, within 500 feet of a school or child-care center, or next to a church, synagogue or other religious institution.

Thee Dollhouse would have five years to relocate.

A final vote is scheduled for Dec. 18.

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