- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 18, 2011

Dance hall legislation passed this year by the Prince George’s County Council easily cleared its first legal challenge last week when a violation for “public dancing” issued against a Temple Hills venue was upheld.

But an attorney representing the venue, Plaza 23 Event Center, said his client was cited for lack of a dance hall license, which the county has made impossible to obtain. He plans to appeal the decision in a circuit court.

The appeal hearing Tuesday was the first held under the new law and shed light on how the county has been enforcing the legislation, which council members endorsed as a way to curb violence at local nightclubs.

Two out of three members of the newly formed Administrative Board, which rules on violation appeals, voted to uphold the contested violation.

Members in favor of upholding the violation included a representative of the police department, which lobbied for the dance hall legislation, and a representative of the Department of Environmental Resources, which is ultimately in charge of enforcing the new code.

A representative from the Prince George’s County Fire/EMS Department voted against upholding the violation. “It’s the outcome I expected,” said attorney William Sherman, who represented Plaza 23. “The administrative board is going to do the biding of the County Council.”

Mr. Sherman argued that on Nov. 17, the date Plaza 23 owner Dan Richardson was cited for a violation, it was impossible to have had a current dance hall license because applications had only been made available the month prior and review of all applications takes a minimum of 90 days.

While the dance hall bill was passed in July, license applications were only made available in October, according to testimony during the hearing. Since that time, no new dance hall licenses have been granted and the county has ceased to renew old licenses.

Mr. Richardson, who previously obtained year-long licenses in 2009 and 2010, said he went to renew his old dance hall license July 6 but was told the county was no longer renewing them because of the anticipated legislation. The dance hall bill was approved by the council 13 days later.

“At that time we had been directed to hold up because the new law was coming up,” testified Raymond Harris, a DER business license supervisor. “I informed the applicant no action would be taken against anybody until the new format was available.”

Mr. Richardson was in the process of completing his application for a new license when inspectors visited Plaza 23 on Oct. 21.

“We saw dancing taking place at the establishment,” testified DER code inspector Bill Edelen. However, inspectors did not issue a violation at that time.

Inspectors instead arranged a meeting with Mr. Richardson at his venue Nov. 17 and gave him the violation notice then.

“The violation directed them to cease all public dance activity until they had obtained the proper dance license,” said county attorney Anne Manger.

The ruling means that save for the two venues whose old dance hall permits are still valid, Prince George is a dry county in regard to dancing.

“There has to be a law that protect business when there’s a gap in the change of a law,” Mr. Richardson wrote in a letter Friday to legislators. “July 2011 to Jan 2012 is a very long time to go without doing business. No small business can survive not doing business for 6 months.”

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