Urban Evils Come After You


May 29, 1994|By BRIAN SULLAM

Russ Eisenberg, whether he realizes it or not, is a man ahead of his time.

The former U.S. Park policeman wants to open a topless club in Mount Airy and has run into fierce opposition from all quarters of the community.

Carroll County residents have opposed all sorts of development, but never in a thousand years did they think an entrepreneur would try to open a topless joint in one of the county's picturesque towns. These establishments are supposed to be confined to Baltimore's "Block" or to the road houses along North Point Boulevard or Pulaski Highway in Baltimore County.

But as people move out into the far suburbs, shopping malls, movie theaters, restaurants, liquor stores and adult bookstores follow in their wake. It is not at all surprising that Mr. Eisenberg, or somebody else, would try to ride that tide.

In his quest to satisfy Mount Airy's entertainment void, Mr. Eisenberg created havoc for the town government. Elected officials -- who want to prevent him from presenting plans, let alone open his club -- embarrassed themselves by rushing through legislation prohibiting his business from opening.

The town council passed emergency legislation prohibiting customers from bringing their own alcohol into a restaurant. Once the legislation was enacted earlier this month, it was discovered that two existing restaurants -- New York J&P Pizza and Chong Yet Yin (where the waitresses keep their tops on) -- would be forced to discontinue their BYOB (bring your own bottle) business.

At its next meeting, the town council grandfathered the existing establishments but prohibited any future BYOB restaurants.

Mr. Eisenberg says the legislation is intended to prevent him from ever opening his club. Town officials they just want to prevent Mount Airy from being overrun by BYOB restaurants. Let's not kid ourselves.

L No one but Mr. Eisenberg wants a topless club in Mount Airy.

These sleazy clubs attract the worst clientele, degrade women and become centers for prostitution, drug dealing and other anti-social behavior. No right-thinking person wants these sex clubs located anywhere close to home.

The problem is that undesirable amenities of urban life follow people out into the suburbs whether they are wanted or not.

Many people left Baltimore and its environs for Carroll County thinking they would find paradise and escape all these problems. They believed that they would leave behind the congestion, noise, foul air, crime, poor schools, poor people, high taxes and other assorted urban problems.

For the most part, they have been successful. Carroll County has remained a bucolic idyll where families can lead wholesome lives.

However, they may only have a temporary reprieve. As more people pick up and leave not just Baltimore but other metropolitan counties, Carroll invariably will take on characteristics of its urbanized neighbors.

Carroll residents need look no further than neighboring Baltimore County's recent experience trying to regulate two after-hours clubs.

After-hours clubs have been a mainstay of urban life. The clubs usually open after the bars and taverns close. Customers bring their own liquor. Some of the clubs feature live rock or jazz. Others are more sex-oriented, with topless and bottomless dancers.

For nearly nine months, Baltimore County officials kept a wary NTC eye on two clubs -- Club 101 and Club Manhattan -- that opened up in a small business park off Joppa Road in Towson.

When one started to feature strip-tease and the noise and commotion began to bother nearby residents, officials jumped in. But none of the thousands of ordinances in the county code gave them authority to regulate these businesses.

Since the two clubs don't have liquor licenses and don't serve alcohol, the county liquor board doesn't have jurisdiction over them. Neither do the county zoning laws. County officials never anticipated businesses that open at 2 a.m., play loud music, attract rowdy crowds of several hundred people and close when the sun rises.

While Mount Airy's predicament is similar to Baltimore County's, the ire of some residents has been directed at desirable businesses and not just at the proposed topless bar. The unrelated proposal to establish a microbrewery and restaurant in the vacant firehouse was greeted in some quarters as if it were an extension of the strip joint.

The crucial test for the suburbs will be fashioning some type of regulatory regime that controls the undesirable topless bars, adult book stores and peep shows but allows the creation of more socially acceptable entertainment businesses.

No one wants to live in a sterile community that has no diversions. Even people who are seeking a wholesome life for themselves and their families want to be able to enjoy a glass of wine, a bottle of beer or a cocktail at their favorite restaurant. The challenge for county officials and town governments such as Mount Airy is striking a balance that allows restaurants, taverns and clubs to open but discourages the less desirable, sex-oriented operations from gaining a foothold in the county.

Mount Airy may have some temporary success in fending off Mr. Eisenberg, but you can bet he will be but the first of many to open businesses that Carroll residents wanted to leave behind.

Brian Sullam is The Baltimore Sun's editorial writer in Carroll County.

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