Tuesday, June 5, 2007

The D.C. Council yesterday approved a compromise bill that would disperse throughout the city a handful of strip clubs looking to locate in Northeast and ensure that club owners cannot create a red-light district in any one neighborhood.

“There was a certain amount of disharmony here,” said Jim Graham, Ward 1 Democrat, who sponsored the bill. “Now there is an opportunity for harmony.”

The council voted 9 to 4 in favor of Mr. Graham’s bill, which faces a final vote next month and allows strip clubs displaced by the city’s new baseball stadium in Southeast to transfer their liquor licenses to specifically zoned areas of the District.

Harry Thomas Jr., Ward 5 Democrat, proposed six amendments to the bill that placed stringent limits on where the clubs can relocate. Mr. Graham accepted the amendments without a vote.

One amendment limits to two the number of clubs eligible to relocate into each ward unless they move into certain commercially zoned areas such as the city’s downtown core.

Other amendments require that there be a 1,200-foot buffer between the relocating clubs and a 600-foot buffer zone between the clubs and churches, schools, libraries and playgrounds.

“What it does protect is [from] clustering,” Mr. Thomas said. “And that is our No. 1 concern.”

Mr. Graham said the amendments also give club owners additional options to relocate: One amendment to the bill lets the businesses move back to specifically zoned areas within 5,000 feet of the new ballpark.

“I think we addressed the issue of a red-light district,” Mr. Graham said. “This was a victory for their ability to relocate.”

An additional amendment requires that clubs moving into a neighborhood under the bill be consistent with that neighborhood’s Small Area Plan that may be under way. The plans are directions for development created by the city’s Office of Planning and submitted to the council for approval by resolution. The amendment stipulates such plans be completed by Nov. 1.

Owners of roughly five strip clubs — some of which catered to a homosexual clientele — had identified potential sites in Ward 5 to reopen their doors under the measure’s original version.

Mr. Thomas opposed the moves owing to constituents’ concerns that the clubs would create a red-light district in their back yard.

The amended bill will likely affect most of the clubs looking to move into Ward 5: Two proposed strip-club sites, at 2122 24th Place and 2127 Queens Chapel Road in Northeast, sit in buildings close to each other and adjacent to a church.

Two other sites, at 2132 and 2046 West Virginia Ave. NE, would violate the 1,200-foot buffer.

Despite the acceptance of his amendments, Mr. Thomas voted against the bill, saying he opposed the measure on principle because it had essentially targeted his ward.

Still, the watered-down bill was heralded by nearly every council member as a compromise on a divisive issue.

Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray, a Democrat, thanked both Mr. Graham and Mr. Thomas for “working assiduously on behalf of those you represent.”

Carol Schwartz, at-large Republican, said the amended bill will ensure “fair and equitable distribution” of the clubs.

“I did not think it was fair to see a community that is revitalizing itself … house all of these establishments,” Mrs. Schwartz said.

But some residents weren’t as pleased. Kathy Henderson, a former advisory neighborhood commissioner in Ward 5, said she was “deeply disheartened” with the bill’s passage.

“The amendments don’t keep us out of harm’s way,” she said. “They just minimize the risk.”

Community activist and ward resident Rose Smith, who joined others at the John A. Wilson Building yesterday wearing T-shirts reading “No Nude Bars or Strip Clubs in Ward #5,” said she fears the debate over the clubs’ locations is far from over.

“None of this is really solved,” Mrs. Smith said. “I’m hoping everybody will be content with two [clubs] in each ward.”

Richard J. Rosendall, vice president for political affairs of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, who supported the bill, said the amended version was a good result, but not the best one possible.

“Without this bill, [the clubs] all die,” Mr. Rosendall said. “With this bill, they have a fighting chance.”

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