Compromise Approved On Strip-Club Licenses
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Compromise Approved On Strip-Club Licenses

By Sewell Chan
Washington Post Staff Writer

The Washington Post
Wednesday, January 24, 2001; Page B02

The D.C. Council voted yesterday to continue a ban on new liquor licenses for strip clubs but to allow existing clubs to relocate or transfer their licenses.

The compromise amendment, drawn up by council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2) and approved 11 to 2, was a response to pointed criticism of one provision in a liquor law overhaul that the council approved last month. The new provision permits 17 existing strip clubs to sell their liquor licenses or move to the central business district or industrial areas of the city. No new licenses can be granted.

The version of the bill approved Dec. 19 would have lifted a 1994 moratorium on new licenses in the downtown area.

The council also rejected, 9 to 4, a proposed ban on the sale of single cans and bottles of beer, ale and malt liquor at liquor and grocery stores. The prohibition was favored by community groups that linked such sales to alcoholism, loitering and underage drinking.

Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D), whom several members criticized yesterday as being easily swayed by misinformed public opinion, is expected to sign the legislation, aides said.

Council members decided this month to take a rare third vote on the alcoholic beverage control issue after a string of negative newspaper editorials about plans to open a D.C. branch of a New York City topless club with reputed mob ties.

Five of the city's strip clubs are thought to be endangered by the planned redevelopment of the Washington Navy Yard in Southeast Washington.

Only one of the 17 existing clubs is in the central business district, and Evans's amendment sets high hurdles if others try to move there. They could not obtain licenses within 600 feet of each other or within 600 feet of a residential building.

Council Chairman Linda W. Cropp (D) had already amended the bill in December to allow nearby residents to block a strip club from obtaining a license. Evans said his amendment further ensures that the bill, which community groups have mostly applauded, will not result in the proliferation of topless clubs or jeopardize the city's rejuvenated downtown.

"What concerns me the most is how this issue has been demagogued -- by the papers, by citizens and by some of my own colleagues," Evans said.

Two at-large members, Republican Carol Schwartz and Democrat Harold Brazil, voted against reconsideration of the bill, though they later joined the unanimous vote approving the amended bill.

Schwartz said too many members of the public do not understand that the original bill made it more difficult for any business to obtain, renew or transfer a liquor license.

Brazil chastised his colleagues for being "so irresolute, so indecisive as to be bandied about in the way that we have." He argued that Evans's compromise still would permit disreputable strip clubs to purchase existing licenses and relocate downtown. Brazil and council member Vincent B. Orange Sr. (D-Ward 5) cast the only votes against the amendment, arguing that the council should have left the original moratorium intact.

A majority of council members could not be persuaded to support a ban, sponsored by Adrian M. Fenty (D-Ward 4), on single containers of alcoholic beverages of 40 ounces or less.

Schwartz said such a ban would do little to curb consumption and would simply make it more expensive for working-class residents to buy a beer. Existing D.C. law prohibits drinking from an open container in public places and needs better enforcement, she said.

Council member Sandy Allen (D-Ward 8), who represents the city's poorest ward, said any such ban should be sought only for a particular store or neighborhood, as the bill already provided, rather than citywide.

"We do have more liquor stores than I think we need sometimes, but I also think I have the right [to decide] whether I want to buy one beer or a six-pack and split it," said Allen, who added that she does not drink.

Council members Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) and Kevin P. Chavous (D-Ward 7) joined Fenty and David A. Catania (R-At Large) in voting for the ban, which failed.

2001 The Washington Post Company


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