NE Residents Fear Clubs Bill Would Create a 'Red-Light Zone'

Rhonda L. Ward, left, and her partner, Akua Osei-Bonsu, right, with neighbor Vela Mae Adams, bought a home in Ivy City 18 months ago and are optimistic despite other residents' worries about adult clubs.
Rhonda L. Ward, left, and her partner, Akua Osei-Bonsu, right, with neighbor Vela Mae Adams, bought a home in Ivy City 18 months ago and are optimistic despite other residents' worries about adult clubs. (By Linda Davidson -- The Washington Post)

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By Yolanda Woodlee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 5, 2007

The dirty white warehouse marked "2120" with a big black sign didn't let on what made it different from all the other buildings just off New York Avenue in Northeast Washington. Then Kathyrn Pearson-West peered inside and saw condoms and lubricants lined up just beyond the door.

She ran back to the parking lot of the club 2120 and told her fellow community activists what she had seen.

"A pleasure pit," said Audrey Ray, one of the other women who took a look last week at the nude entertainment club that has opened on West Virginia Avenue, next to a vacant lot and across the street from an auto body shop. "We don't need this in our neighborhood."

People throughout Ward 5, particularly those in Ivy City and Trinidad, are lobbying against a D.C. Council bill that could allow as many as half a dozen adult clubs in the neighborhood. The clubs, some of which show movies and have nude dancing and private booths, were displaced from Ward 6 when the city began building the Washington Nationals baseball stadium on the Anacostia River waterfront.

There's been an uproar in Ivy City and Trinidad, a mix of residential streets wedged into a shabby industrial zone. People have been holding rallies, handing out fliers and patrolling the halls of the Wilson Building, seeking to persuade council members to oppose the bill.

The residents deny club supporters' contentions that the protest is tinged with homophobia because 2021 and many of the others appeal to gay men.

"They picked on a low-income neighborhood with a new council member and expected little resistance," Pearson-West said. "People are struggling for hope and looking for new opportunities, and you put this mess over here."

Ron Dickson, owner of one of the clubs, defended his business. He said his establishment -- Club 55, an "exotic dance club" -- pays about $14,000 annually in property taxes and about $50,000 in sales taxes. "People don't realize how much revenue that these clubs bring into the city," Dickson said.

The council is scheduled to vote today on legislation introduced by Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) that he said would allow relocation of five clubs. The bill would permit one-time transfers of the clubs' liquor licenses if the new locations have a commercial zoning designation.

Most of the potential sites meeting the requirement are in Ivy City and Trinidad. Dickson said that he looked at locations in Ward 6 and Ward 1 but that Alcoholic Beverage Control Board officials told him the council would approve only the clubs moving into Ward 5.

"I have no idea of who, when and where and why Ward 5 was picked," Dickson said. "The law says you can only go in a certain area . . . in the zone you're coming out of."

Although Graham said he didn't intend to dump the clubs in Ward 5, the new Ward 5 council member, Harry Thomas Jr. (D), and many residents are taking it that way.


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© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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