Council considers ban on after-hours clubs

Baltimore County councilman says they attract unruly crowds

April 22, 2000|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County is considering a ban on after-hours clubs, even though the only such club in operation will close at the end of June.

The County Council is reviewing a bill, endorsed by County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger, that would prohibit clubs from operating between 2 a.m. -- when bars and nightclubs must close -- and 6 a.m.

After-hours clubs charge admission, play music and do not sell alcohol, but allow patrons to bring their own.

Councilman Wayne M. Skinner said he began working on the bill a few months ago after he was told that a club might open in his Towson district. The rumor turned out to be false.

But Skinner said clubs in Towson had in the past attracted unruly crowds and meant noisy nights, police calls and neighborhood complaints.

"They contribute nothing to the county, they attract nothing but riffraff. We just don't need them," Skinner said.

The bill is scheduled to be voted on at the council's May 1 meeting.

Kim McCoy, an Annapolis lawyer who represents the county's only after-hours club, the Twilight Zone in Arbutus, said management does "everything possible" to provide a safe environment.

The council passed a law in 1994 restricting after-hours clubs to certain commercial areas after Club 101 in the 8800 block of Orchard Tree Lane in Towson began attracting more than 1,000 people a night.

"We had hundreds of kids there causing problems," said Skinner.

The club, which later changed its name to Liquids, was shut down after the county Board of Appeals ruled in 1998 that it sold liquor illegally and violated zoning regulations.

Also that year, county lawyers sued in Circuit Court to shut down the Twilight Zone.

The suit was resolved in July when the club's president, Joseph Pepitone, signed a consent decree agreeing to close June 30.

He also agreed that while he remains open, he will hire at least eight security officers, close by 4: 30 a.m., limit crowds to 450 and turn off the music and turn on all lights when police or paramedics arrive.

County lawyers had argued that the hundreds of people who showed up each night created a threat to public safety.

"The crowds have become so large, so unruly and so unlawful that an imminent danger exists to the lives of patrons and to law enforcement personnel," county lawyers said in court papers.

But a security consultant hired by the club after the suit was filed said the county's enforcement efforts brought dozens of police officers who might have incited the crowds.

"The county cracked down, they tried to create an overwhelming police presence and it backfired," said Frank Alessi, a retired military police officer hired by the Twilight Zone to observe the club's operations.

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