After-hours quandary

April 18, 1994

The Baltimore County government finds itself in a quandary over two after-hours clubs that opened last year in an east Towson business park.

Residents who live near Club 101 and Club Manhattan on Orchard Tree Lane off Joppa Road -- the first and, so far, only after-hours spots in the county -- have complained about noise and the undesirable clientele associated with the strip shows that have been staged at Club Manhattan.

Meanwhile, the facts about the ownership of the two clubs and how they initially gained county approval are clouded by contradictions. Club Manhattan's owners, for example, applied to open as a private social club. Imagine the chagrin of county officials when they discovered that this "social club" featured completely nude dancing, in violation of county law.

The situation is further muddled by the fact that the county has no zoning classification for clubs open after 2 a.m. Moreover, these bring-your-own-booze businesses operate without liquor licenses, so the county is powerless to exert control through its liquor laws. The County Council could make a new category for the clubs, with appropriate regulatory powers, but council members would be committing political suicide to sanction an opening for these clubs, especially in an election year.

If the county seeks to shut down the clubs or at least bring them into line with local laws, its best recourse apparently would be through the hearing process. Indeed, the zoning department has asked the owners of both clubs to undergo official hearings to determine the legality of their businesses.

There's always the chance these hearings could lead to approval of the clubs in some form, which wouldn't sit well with community officials and area residents already weary from fighting the problems caused by two other nearby entertainment venues -- the Kaos nightclub, where illegal strip dancing has occurred, and the Skateland rink, where brawling and vandalism are not uncommon.

Zoning Commissioner Lawrence E. Schmidt ruled last week against a request for an after-hours club in Arbutus. He said the local zoning would have allowed a standard nightclub but not an after-hours business. This finding suggests that anyone intending to open an after-hours place could obtain a permit by deceitfully claiming to launch a nightclub or a "social club." The county obviously needs to clarify its policy regarding after-hours clubs. Otherwise the difficulties seen in east Towson could be repeated all over the county.

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