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- 2014 - February - 25th -
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U.S. District Judge Marcia Morales Howard

Judge rules against city's 'bikini bar' code

By David Chapman, Staff Writer

Belly dancers at hookah bars, drag-dressed hostesses at a hamburger restaurant and performers at a “bikini bar” should fall under the same legal category of dancing establishments.

That’s the opinion a federal judge gave last week in a ruling that sided with developers of a bikini bar the city was denied last November.

The city, though, maintains the exotic business should be separate from other dance-based enterprises.

Late last year when a group sought approval on plans to open a bikini bar in the Baymeadows area, it was denied by the city Planning Commission.

Albanese Enterprises Inc. pushed back. It contended that the city’s law governing such places was too broad.

The city said it is “obvious” the dancing establishments in the code mean exotic dancing or bikini bars. The rules in question follow those regulating nude and semi-nude venues and is meant to regulate exotic dancing.

U.S. District Judge Marcia Morales Howard in a ruling siding with Albanese called the city’s construction “more strained than obvious.”

“Unfortunately for the city, however, what it meant to do, is not what it did,” Howard said in her opinion.

She declared it unconstitutionally overbroad under the First Amendment and rendered it unenforceable.

The city received a temporary stay Thursday until mid-March, when both sides will present their cases why a permanent stay should or shouldn’t be granted.

The city is appealing Howard’s decision on the case to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta.

Craig Feiser, an assistant general counsel with the city and lead in the case, said he couldn’t comment. He told the Daily Record he would have to get approval from General Counsel Cindy Laquidara to comment on the issue. He did not call the newspaper back.

Karl Sanders, the attorney for Albanese, did not return calls for comment.

The dancing entertainment code was once applied to all establishments that served alcohol and had workers who dance and accept tips or compensation in return.

In 2007, City Council amended it to remove the alcohol language, requiring any business to receive an alcohol exception to do so.

The Planning Department sided with the change, maintaining residential character and the quality of life could be preserved against uses that could bring negative impacts like crime.

Albanese argues when the changes were approved, the code then reflected all dancing establishments where people are paid. They used examples such as the belly dancers and even pole fitness and “Dance Trance” classes as others included.

The definition would mean dancing establishments that fall into that range would need the right license, be limited to certain areas and need an additional alcohol exception that Albanese acquired.

The group was lawfully allowed to open the bar in a former Burger King at 8669 Baymeadows Road because it was appropriately zoned for a restaurant with dancing. The city had to, and did, sign off on an alcohol exception.

But, when Albanese tried to have a dancing establishment that served alcohol, the Planning Commission — with a chorus of opposition to the business — in November said no, claiming it didn’t fit with the area.

Howard’s opinion ruled the ordinance as now written is unconstitutionally overbroad, but also said that that doesn’t mean the city can’t regulate bikini bars -- just that the code would need rewriting, something the court can’t do.

dchapman@baileypub.com

@writerchapman

(904) 356-2466

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