After-hours clubs draw community concern

April 11, 1994|By Patrick Gilbert | Patrick Gilbert,Sun Staff Writer

The patrons show up in the parking lot under the harsh glare of mercury vapor lights. Some carry six-packs, some cradle fifths of liquor.

Club 101 and Club Manhattan are ready for business. It's 2 a.m. and party time for those who just can't stop partying.

The two after-hours clubs, in a small business park off Joppa Road at Orchard Tree Lane in Towson, are the first of their kind in Baltimore County.

Neighbors and county officials are trying to figure out how to deal with the operations -- which appear to fall through the cracks of the county's regulations -- as well as an ownership muddle that makes it hard to figure out who's in charge of them.

Neighbors' concern grew deeper recently when the Club Manhattan began featuring female striptease shows and a recorded message on the club's answering machine promised the "sexiest ladies around".

"We don't need strip shows out here and the bad elements it brings to the community," said neighbor Shirley Chandler.

After-hours clubs open for business when other nightclubs and taverns close at 2 a.m. Because they operate when liquor laws forbid the sale of alcohol, they don't have liquor

licenses and don't come under liquor board regulations. Instead, patrons bring their own alcoholic beverages, and the clubs provide the setting for dancing and socializing.

One problem, according to neighbors and county officials, is that there's no mention of after-hours clubs in the county's zoning laws -- and therefore nothing to regulate them.

Last week, Zoning Commissioner Lawrence E. Schmidt ruled that only the County Council can create a new zoning classification for after-hours clubs. The ruling came in a request from two Baltimore County firefighters who wanted to open an after-hours club in a business park off Washington Boulevard in Arbutus.

Although both Club 101 and Club Manhattan opened in May 1993, community leaders and county zoning officials didn't move against them until last autumn.

"We were aware of them when they opened, but we just kept an eye on them until we started getting complaints from nearby homeowners about loud noise coming from Club 101 in the early morning hours," said Wayne Skinner, president of the Towson-Loch Raven Community Council.

Mr. Skinner said the community is worried that the pressure state and Baltimore police recently have put on The Block -- the city's adult entertainment district -- will force those kind of activities into the county.

Harry Thorn, who lives behind Club 101, said that the music is so loud it rattles the windows and makes listening to television or radio difficult.

Ms. Chandler, another close neighbor, said that she has had to call the police numerous times because of loud music and loud people outside the club.

Mr. Skinner said community leaders and residents began giving information to police, who then passed it on to the county zoning enforcement office.

"Our position is that after-hour clubs are not included in the zoning regulations; therefore they shouldn't exist," Mr. Skinner said.

Both clubs received occupancy permits from the county even though there is no zoning classification for them.

The applicant for Club Manhattan -- The Association That Plays Inc. -- listed its operation as a private social club. John A. Giorgilli, who identified himself as the owner of Club 101, told zoning officials that he had received a letter from the county saying the operation was legal.

But James H. Thompson, the zoning enforcement officer, said that his office has no record of the letter.

Club 101, according to community leaders, police and zoning officials, does brisk business with the 20-something crowd, with several hundred patrons regularly jamming the place.

The county zoning enforcement office sent a letter to Club 101 in January telling it to seek a hearing to determine if it can operate legally. Mr. Thompson said the club has taken the first steps to request a hearing.

Mr. Giorgilli said that he has cooperated with police and zoning officials and has tried to cooperate with neighbors and community leaders.

"We've had, what I would say, are only a few minor problems associated with the club," said Mr. Giorgilli, an Army veteran and Essex Community College student. "I want to go through the proper channels and do what's right to make a business that is run properly and becomes part of the community."

Mr. Thompson also said that he told Frank M. Corbi, who identified himself as the owner of Club Manhattan, that he, too, needed a hearing.

In February, after an informant told police that strippers were appearing at Club Manhattan, two undercover county vice-squad detectives visited the club. According to the report they sent to the zoning office, four or five women danced and stripped completely. For a $10 tip, a nude dancer would sit on a patron's lap, the detectives said.

"We never pushed our investigation to the point of determining if there were prostitution going on," said one detective, who requested anonymity to protect his undercover operation.

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