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Strip club company slows its push for Lovejoy location

By Justin Boron

Joseph Entertainment, a company trying to open a strip club in the Clayton County suburb of Lovejoy, pulled its business application from Tuesday night's City Council agenda, delaying for now what could become a legal showdown between the business and the city.

James Bischoff, the attorney representing the company, said his clients are still considering whether they will pursue the establishment, which would arrive amidst a recent concentration of single family homes in the city ranging from $150,000 to $250,000.

And although Bischoff promises in a letter to the city that his clients will ”take every legal action necessary“ to enforce their rights, Mayor Joe Murphy said the company's step back Tuesday could be an early signal that it doesn't want to endure a court fight to get the business license.

”I think they realized it will probably be a battle,“ he said.

Tony Joseph of Lake Worth, Fla., Karen Curtis of Peachtree City, Ga., Shelley Wisner of Covington, Ga., and Jessica Abbate of McDonough are listed in the business application as the proposed club's four equal owners.

Joseph Entertainment's hesitancy comes after the City Council last week scrambled to pass an ordinance banning what it defines as ”adult entertainment“ in the city. Voting 2-0 with one abstention, the five-seat council met Sept. 29 without notifying the public 24 hours in advance as required by the Georgia Open Meetings Act.

The News Daily, Clayton County's legal organ, learned of the meeting by phone about nine hours before it took place. City council members Arlie Aukerman and Bobby Cartwright also said they were notified only hours before the meeting. Aukerman did not attend and Murphy didn't vote.

In the minutes of the emergency meeting, Lovejoy attorney Steve Fincher said ”the open meeting laws also provide for an exception when there is exigent circumstances.“

Paul Higbee, the attorney representing the council Tuesday night, declined to comment beyond the contents of the meeting's minutes.

The vote during the emergency meeting ended a moratorium on adult entertainment that had been in place for almost two years while the city crafted its ordinance, Murphy said.

While it made illegal the form of business, the council also provided a litany of stipulations that an adult entertainment establishment would have to follow if its prohibition was defeated in court.

One of those conditions is location.

Joseph Entertainment had planned to set up its establishment on Hastings Bridge Road near the center of the city, Bischoff said.

But the ordinance relegates the location of adult entertainment to a piece of property along Tara Boulevard south of Talmadge Road.

At Tuesday's meeting, Aukerman tried to move the entertainment district back to the center of the city onto Lovejoy businessman Ellis Conkle's property. But his motion failed 3-2.

The new ordinance also lists several other conditions under which adult entertainment would be prohibited -

é Within 200 feet of any property zoned or developed for residential use

é Within 1,000 feet of property with government related buildings, day care facilities, and any place of assembly, which would include a church

é Within 200 feet of another adult entertainment facility

é Within 500 feet of a hotel or motel

é On property that fails to provide one parking space for every three patrons that it has the capacity to hold

Murphy said the location is a moot point because he thinks the ordinance, if fought, will be upheld by the courts.

But city officials from outside of Lovejoy suggested the contrary.

Because adult entertainment is often argued to be protected by the First Amendment, Forest Park Mayor Chuck Hall said it's difficult and expensive to fight.

Hall said his city, which is home to a strip club called The Crazy Horse Saloon, fought the presence of strip clubs unsuccessfully in 1994.

”It's hard to fight those. You just have to have ordinances to best protect you.

”If (Lovejoy) tries to fight it's just going to be a loss of revenue,“ he said.

Jonesboro City Manager Jon Walker, whose city recently tried to fine tune its adult entertainment ordinance, had the same opinion.

”All you can do is put things in place to regulate it,“ he said, adding he could only speak for Jonesboro's experience and wasn't necessarily instructing the officials in Lovejoy on what to do.