- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 29, 2005

A strip club near Hyattsville that ran afoul of Prince George’s County liquor regulators after a 2003 triple homicide in its parking lot has won permission to move next to a church just outside the city limits of Laurel.

The relocation of the Stardust Inn in an unincorporated section of the county has sparked a legal battle and complaints by Laurel officials that the new business will undermine economic development along the busy Route 1 corridor.

“That is first and foremost our primary goal is that we want to offer a restaurant,” Robyn Kim, president of Hyo Myung Enterprises, told county regulators at a hearing in August. “And it just happens that go-go dancers are our form of entertainment.”

Located at Contee Road and Baltimore Avenue, the Stardust Inn — now housed in a nightclub called Club Amazon — sits in a shopping complex across the street from a furniture store. Its owners, who previously had run a nighttime-only operation, have indicated plans for daytime hours to attract lunchtime patrons.

Several state and county officials have voiced their opposition to the transfer of the strip club’s liquor license since the county liquor commission approved the deal in August.

In addition, two legal challenges have been filed in Prince George’s County Circuit Court seeking to overturn the liquor board’s ruling. And several community groups have formed to fight the club’s plans.

Among the critics is County Council Chairman Thomas E. Dernoga, Laurel Democrat, who told the liquor commission in a letter in August that the Stardust has a history of underage drinking and drug activity.

However, the club’s owners say criticism of their business is unfair and that their relocation will fulfill an unmet need in the community.

Hyo Myung Enterprises and an attorney for the company did not return phone calls for this report.

Tae Kim, who manages the Stardust, called the April 2003 shootings “an absolute aberration” and a “tragic incident” during a liquor commission hearing in August.

Mr. Kim, a former assistant state’s attorney under County Executive Jack B. Johnson, is married to Mrs. Kim, of Hyo Myung Enterprises, records show. Mr. Kim left his post with the state’s attorney’s office in 2003 after details surfaced about his business ties to the strip-club industry.

The dispute over the relocation comes nearly a year after the liquor commission moved to revoke Stardust’s liquor license at its Hyattsville site, 7519 Annapolis Road.

The ruling was issued amid community opposition to the club after the 2003 shooting deaths of Noe Ornelas-Cruz, 23, of Lanham; Francisco Javier Ornelas-Mejia, 29, of Alexandria; Robert Roman Jr., 19, of Lanham. The men were killed after an argument spilled out of the club’s parking lot, police said.

The liquor commission, a five-member panel appointed by the governor, reviewed the club’s operations after the still-unsolved slayings. Officials fined the club and suspended its liquor license, saying it “posed a threat to the peace, health and safety of the community.”

But the commission later granted the Stardust permission to remain open pending legal appeals.

The commission permitted the Stardust’s owners to relocate in August under several special conditions, including a provision that calls for Hyo Myung Enterprises to help a nearby church leave its current location.

The church’s pastor, the Rev. Wale Maye of the Touch of Love Bible Church, yesterday said his 80-member congregation is challenging the liquor board’s ruling in court, but ultimately may relocate because of the strip club.

In addition, the club also must refrain from advertising on billboards, hosting live bands and having topless dancers perform within 6 feet of patrons.

The club’s move to the outskirts of Laurel has been planned for months. Hyo Myung Enterprises purchased Club Amazon for $650,000 this summer, according to court records.

Critics of the transfer, including Laurel officials and state lawmakers, say the relocation shifts a problem from one part of the county to another.

“If there is a problem the county is having with an establishment, then the liquor board should be addressing the problem and not moving it from one location to another,” said Laurel Mayor Craig A. Moe.

In legal documents, attorneys for the Stardust said the strip club has been unfairly blamed for the shootings.

“By the same logic, the operators of the gas station, the supermarket and the elementary school should be held liable for the sniper shootings on their property,” attorneys said.

Laurel officials said they oppose the new club because they fear it will strain police.

The Laurel and Prince George’s County police departments have an agreement to assist each other in emergencies. The club is located just outside Laurel, but City Administrator Kristie Mills said Laurel officers still would respond to calls there.

“While we’re out there assisting them, we’d be taking officers outside of the city,” she said.

“We’re against them relocating here because of the reputation they’ve had and the problems they’ve had,” Miss Mills said.

Mr. Maye, whose church is near the club, said Laurel residents were not given enough notice that the club was moving to the area.

He said he and others questioned whether a sign giving the public notice about the August liquor-license hearing was posted for the required 30 days.

“Nobody saw a sign; nobody knew a thing about it until it was too late,” Mr. Maye said.

The Stardust reopened briefly last month, but it has remained closed pending the issuance of county permits. Local officials said they’re not sure when the club will open.

Mr. Moe and Mr. Maye said it could be months before a judge rules on their legal challenges seeking to overturn the liquor commission’s ruling.

The situation also has spawned calls for more regulations on strip clubs throughout the county, including recent county legislation to limit strip bars’ hours from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m.

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