Block strip clubs lose zoning appeal

City panel recommends shutting down three, temporarily closing six

April 28, 1999|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

The fate of nine strip clubs on Baltimore's famous Block will be decided in Circuit Court after the zoning board upheld yesterday the recommended shutdown of three establishments and the temporary closing of the rest.

The action by the city Board of Municipal and Zoning Appeals is the latest in a series of attempts to crack down on the once-renowned burlesque strip that police say has become infested with drugs and prostitution.

At a hearing before the board yesterday, the clubs in the 400 block of E. Baltimore St. appealed suspensions of their licenses after a zoning administrator upheld police citations that the dancers in the clubs solicited for prostitution.

Some of the violations date to 1994.

Police say dancers asked patrons to buy them drinks at a cost of up to $60 in return for sex acts conducted in the dimly lighted bars.

Under city zoning laws, three violations over two years result in an automatic license revocation. On Monday, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke signed a law that put the clubs under the jurisdiction of the Baltimore Board of Liquor License Commissioners.

Pointing to the new law, attorneys for the strip clubs asked the board to dismiss the cases and allow the clubs to face the liquor board with a clean slate.

"The lights of The Block are going to go out," said attorney Claude Edward Hitchcock, who represents a club owners' association.

Benjamin A. Neil, zoning board chairman, said he was frustrated by the violations and pushed to deny the appeals, sending the matter to court.

"The Circuit Court will tell us whether we're right or wrong," Neil said.

Attorneys for the clubs said they would file appeals in Circuit Court, a move that would allow the clubs to remain open until the cases are heard.

The clubs facing revocation of their licenses include the Plaza Saloon, the Golden Nugget Lounge and Club Chez Joey.

The establishments that could be closed from five to 30 days are the Jewel Box, Circus Show Bar, Mouse Trap, Crystal Show Bar, Harem Show Bar and 408 Club.

C. Ford Milland, the attorney who represents Club Chez Joey, called the zoning board action a double penalty for his client because the liquor board fined the club $2,500 for the solicitation violation.

Other attorneys complained that Police Department vice officers, who made the allegations, were not present at yesterday's hearing to testify.

Neil said the hearing was held not to retry the cases but to determine whether the initial finding of zoning officials to suspend the licenses should be upheld.

In February, Circuit Judge Richard T. Rombro determined that state laws do not prohibit nude dancing in the clubs.

The city has spruced up The Block with new lampposts and brick sidewalks in an effort to encourage club owners to create a more tourist-friendly atmosphere similar to New Orleans' French Quarter.

Pub Date: 4/28/99

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