- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 24, 2001

The D.C. Council yesterday retained a ban on new downtown strip clubs applying for liquor licenses, but passed legislation that will allow existing clubs to keep their licenses if they move.

Council member Jack Evans, Ward 2 Democrat, offered the legislation as a compromise to allow homosexual strip clubs in the Navy Yard area to move without allowing new nude dancing clubs to take root downtown.

After hours of debate, the council voted 11-2 for the legislation. Council members Vincent Orange, Ward 5 Democrat, and Harold Brazil, at-large Democrat, voted against the measure.

The council had come under intense criticism and pressure from residents, the Metropolitan Police Department, Mayor Anthony A. Williams and Congress after it voted to lift the ban last month as part of its comprehensive alcohol-regulation bill.

That criticism and pressure increased after The Washington Times first reported that Scores, a New York City strip club with ties to organized crime, was planning to set up shop in the District in the wake of the council's decision.

Mr. Evans said his amendment will "prohibit the proliferation of nude dancing establishments and a red-light district [and] it does open up the chance for those clubs in Southeast that will be torn down to move their establishments."

If a club attempts to move into the downtown business district, it will be subject to additional regulations that Mr. Evans said make it "very, very difficult" to be approved.

Mr. Brazil, who tried to keep the original moratorium in place, said the compromise relies on "convoluted logic" and still would allow out-of-town nude bars to open in the District. He said Scores could move downtown under the legislation and then transfer its license.

"You're creating the opportunity that I don't think any one of us wants," Mr. Brazil told Mr. Evans. "If you really want the restrictions, put the moratorium on, not all this gobbledygook."

Mr. Evans' amendment would allow an existing nude-dancing club to move within its zoned "warehouse district" or to move downtown.

If the club goes downtown, it cannot be within 600 feet of a residence or a proposed residence, and it cannot be within 600 feet of other nude-dancing establishments.

The District's homosexual community lobbied the council to lift the moratorium. Several clubs in the Navy Yard ara, which cater to homosexuals, are being pushed out by redevelopment and would have closed under the old law.

Mr. Evans told The Times yesterday that he met with homosexual activists on Friday and hammered out the details of the amendment he offered.

The D.C. Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, the main lobbying group for lifting the moratorium, also worked with council members Sharon Ambrose, Ward 6 Democrat and the liquor bill's author, as well as Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat, and David A. Catania, at-large Republican both of whom are openly homosexual, said GLAA member Rick Rosendall.

Mr. Rosendall congratulated Mr. Evans after the hearing on getting his amendment passed.

Mr. Evans' allies, such as Mrs. Ambrose, said the amendment's purpose is to be fair to responsible club owners who have invested equity into their clubs for years and now face closure.

"Several of these clubs or more are in jeopardy of losing their license to do this business without any remedy," Mr. Graham said. "What drives this bill is an effort at fairness."

The bill has other restrictions and procedures to prevent an unwanted nude-dancing club, said several council members, who downplayed the furor over reports about Scores.

Mr. Evans and council member Carol Schwartz, at-large Republican, said the concern about mob-controlled strip clubs was "hysteria."

Council member Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat, echoed that sentiment: "I don't think that Scores is going to happen."

Several council members lamented the fact they had to reconsider the bill especially under congressional pressure and media scrutiny after it had been passed last month.

"I don't want anyone to think this council has regrouped or has shaped up its act in any way shape or form," Mrs. Schwartz said. "I like what we did. I'm not going to be bulldozed into doing something I disagree with just because of misinformation."

Mr. Catania brought a brief moment of levity to the debate when he suggested the District is an inhospitable environment for organized crime because of its inefficiency.

"Let's presume Scores does attempt to come here," he said. "I will contend that … the District government is the finest tool ever devised to foil organized crime. I would almost like to see them handle the levels of bureaucracy, the delays, the further delays, the unreturned phone calls.

"The basic lack of response is our best defense against organized crime," he said. "The regulatory side of the District that is so often a burden to business has a useful side."

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