- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 3, 2007

Tomorrow, the 13-member D.C. Council is scheduled to give its first indication of whether the geographical heart of Ward 5 becomes a red-light district of nude bars. Some large portion of the fate of Ivy City and the New York Avenue corridor for years to come is at stake. Accordingly, this vote will be watched closely by thousands of residents and area business owners who oppose a red-light district in the nation’s capital. Below are, we submit, the grounds to oppose the bill, which enacts a one-time waiver of relocation restrictions on adult establishments seeking to move to Ward 5:

1. The number of nude clubs to open in a small Ward 5 radius if this bill passes as it stood last week is a minimum of five and is possibly as high as nine or more. This figure has been consistently misreported in local and city-wide news outlets. Because multiple venues can be established on a single property with a single license, it is untrue that the controversy concerns two clubs, or even a maximum of four or five. The names of nine clubs and theaters are already heard in this debate with regularity. Eight of them were mentioned by name in last week’s preliminary “compromise” — Heat, Follies Theater, Ziegfield, Secrets, Edge, Wet, Club 55 and Nexus Gold Club. A ninth is already in operation — an adult theatre on West Virginia Avenue NE. The “compromise” would disallow four of these establishments, for a total of five under current discussion. Clearly, this is a red-light district. It will rival or surpass what existed on the Anacostia waterfront prior to stadium construction. It will remake the identity of the New York Avenue corridor, with the crime, drugs and prostitution which locals can only assume will accompany half a dozen or more nude bars.

2. The “compromise” under consideration last week is a modest improvement over Council Member Jim Graham’s legislation, but it still creates a red-light district. It limits the issuance of licenses to those establishments that were evicted by eminent domain from the Anacostia waterfront — not those which merely rented space from property owners subject to eminent domain, or those that were displaced by other development. This would result in five to six clubs, in total, counting those already established. The compromise also entails expanding the minimum distance between clubs to 1,200 feet distance from the previously discussed 300 and 600; applying “sexually oriented” zoning restrictions to these clubs; requiring them to fund neighborhood cleanups and other community benefits; and ensuring that clubs comport with the D.C. Office of Planning’s Small Area Plan. Some “compromise.” This essentially creates a smaller red-light district incorporating safeguards which most residents would already expect to be in place. We credit Ward 5 Council Member Harry Thomas Jr. for fighting Mr. Graham on these issues, but this plan entails more capitulation than compromise.

3. The D.C. Council must reconcile what it owes Ward 5 with what it owes these adult entertainment establishments. The council misled proprietors and clientele into believing that they are somehow entitled to move en masse into Ward 5. They are not, but because of backroom promises and winks, nods and contortions, they now believe that the fiat of the D.C. Council can make it a reality even though Ward 5 residents are strongly opposed. Accordingly, the council is now caught between the two constituencies. It owes Ward 5 the right to be the leading voice in shaping the character of its neighborhoods. It owes Ward 5 due process, including the normal zoning and alcoholic-beverage restrictions and permitting processes. Ward 5 also deserves the right to say no to half a dozen or more adult establishments which primarily benefit people outside the ward but whose social costs are shouldered locally. The council owes the club proprietors a solution which does not make them the enemies of area residents. It also owes them an apology. It employed deceptive tactics to get these clubs and patrons to give up their establishments so that the Anacostia stadium project would move forward. They may have acted differently had the Council been more forthright about the coming opposition in Ward 5.

The best solution continues to be the dispersal of these clubs. We call on Mr. Graham to host one in his own Ward. Some of these clubs could relocate to the suburbs, where, no doubt, many of the club patrons live. We won’t be holding our breath on either of those.

The D.C. Council should oppose this bill. If it passes tomorrow, Ward 5 will know what lawmakers think of voters there.

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