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Jax Daily Record Thursday, Jul. 10, 201412:00 PM EST

City on defensive in bikini bar case

by: David Chapman

The Baymeadows bikini bar saga continues.

Months after a federal judge ruled the city’s dancing entertainment laws were unconstitutionally broad, the issue was back in federal court Wednesday.

Albanese Enterprises, the company seeking to open the alcohol-selling adult establishment, wanted the court to force the city to issue permits to start renovations to the former Burger King at 8669 Baymeadows Road.

The latest issue between the two sides arose months after U.S. District Judge Marcia Morales Howard ruled the city’s laws regulating dancing establishments were unconstitutionally broad under the First Amendment and rendered them unenforceable.

A temporary stay was issued until mid-March while Morales’ ruling went to the appellate court, with Albanese Enterprises signing off, thinking it wouldn’t hurt the pursuit of obtaining the building permits filed months earlier.

But, days after that stay was issued, the city denied the company’s application, saying Albanese Enterprises first needed zoning exceptions the city had denied before Morales’ ruling.

Since then, the city changed its laws about dancing establishments, closing loopholes. The Albanese Enterprises pursuit still fell under the old rules, though.

Furthermore, in March the city “discovered” a church was leasing space within an industrial business park in the vicinity of the proposed bikini bar, according to the company’s motion. The city responded it didn’t know because Albanese Enterprises’ survey didn’t disclose it.

The city contends the church would render the issue moot — alcohol sales and the dancing establishment couldn’t be in the direct area. In its written response, the city said Morales’ order enjoined enforcement of the old dancing regulations and not the entire zoning code.

The law also doesn’t allow alcohol sold within 500 feet of churches.

One problem: The application for the renovations was denied before the church was discovered. That means the city denied the request based on something other than the church issue.

In the written response to the city, Albanese Enterprises calls the city’s response “outrageous.”

Morales said Albanese’s request to make the city issue the permits wasn’t in the right legal posture to force the city to issue a permit. Instead, it morphed into the city now having to show it is not in contempt for disregarding Morales’ earlier ruling.

That will be heard in a future hearing, but the possibility remains the issue could be settled outside of court.

To allow for proper time for the next hearing, the city extended the company’s zoning exception to serve alcohol it initially received last August. Without being able to put that exception to use — because it didn’t have the other needed permits — Albanese Enterprises faced losing it after a year. It will now expire Aug. 15, 2015.

While there were no permits issued Wednesday, the company’s attorney was OK with the most recent outcome in the ongoing legal wrangling.

“Every time we have been before this court, the court has ruled for us,” said Karl Sanders, representing Albanese Enterprises. “We just want the city to issue us a permit.”

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