Council Passes Amended Bill on Nude Clubs

By Yolanda Woodlee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 6, 2007

The D.C. Council weighed two issues that affect nighttime entertainment and the quality of life in the District yesterday but made a decision on only one. It voted to allow the continued operation of a handful of nude entertainment clubs, putting off a measure that would tighten controls on drinking establishments that attract minors.

The decision to allow the relocation of clubs that involve nudity, explicit dancing and private booths involved a compromise that blocks creating a strip-bar zone in a run-down warehouse section of Ward 5. Under the compromise, only two of six displaced clubs can move to any one ward.

Opponents of the nude bars, who complained that the communities bordering the area were being treated like a dumping zone, were not appeased.

"This is not what I wanted at all," said Carolyn Steptoe of Brookland. "I wanted them to shut those things down."

The establishments, some of which have a gay clientele, were displaced by the construction of the Washington Nationals stadium and development of that pocket of Southeast. The sponsor of the legislation, council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), said the clubs have a right to exist and negotiated for middle ground with his counterpart from Ward 5, Harry Thomas Jr. (D).

"This is a victory for adult entertainment because they survived," Graham said. "Without this bill, they were dead in the water."

Graham also was the author of the bill on controlling underage drinking. There was little discussion before it was tabled. It would have prevented people under 18 from entering nightclubs that serve alcohol after 11 p.m. on weekdays and midnight on weekends, except in July and August, when the curfew would be midnight every day.

The legislation was drafted after a 17-year-old girl was shot and killed at a nightclub in January. It also would have allowed businesses to confiscate fake identification cards and to hire off-duty police officers.

For weeks, the issue of the nude clubs had been the focus of Ward 5 community meetings, e-mails and Internet discussions. Thomas led a group to the John A. Wilson Building last month to lobby council members against moving the clubs.

Thomas and the opponents feared that six such establishments would be relocated in a warehouse district close to the neighborhoods of Ivy City and Trinidad in Ward 5. Residents in the working-class communities worried that the clubs would attract crime and prostitution, thwarting urban renewal and harming property values that are on the rise.

More than 50 residents from Ward 5 packed the chamber of the Wilson Building. Many waited for nearly five hours before the vote, wearing white T-shirts that said "No Nude Bars or Strip Clubs in Ward 5."

Graham and Thomas hammered out their compromise during five sessions mediated by Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D). The legislation, approved in a 9 to 4 initial vote, would allow nude clubs to relocate in commercial zones and included six major changes introduced by Thomas.

Even with his amendments, Thomas voted against the bill. Council member Kwame R. Brown (D-At Large), and two newly elected colleagues, Yvette M. Alexander (D-Ward 7) and Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4), also opposed it. Bowser's parents live in Ward 5.

Thomas said he voted against the "politically divisive issue" because "you have to look at the whole city while we protect our ward. We wouldn't be good neighbors if we dumped it on other people in other wards."

In addition to limiting the number of liquor licenses that can transfer, the bill would also create a 1,200-foot buffer between clubs and a 600-foot buffer between the clubs and churches, schools, libraries and playgrounds.

It also would allow the clubs to move within a 5,000-foot radius around the new ballpark. Before they move anywhere, the bill requires the owners to "build a relationship with civic leaders."

Staff writer Nikita Stewart contributed to this report.

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