0

Forest Park denies license to showbar

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

The City of Forest Park is caught between a rock and two adult entertainment establishments vying for frontage on Jonesboro Road.

The City Council voted on Monday to deny Tops Showbar the alcohol license it needs to open shop at 3950 Jonesboro Road -- the previous location of The Crazy Horse Saloon.

Last fall, The Crazy Horse Saloon moved to 3920 Jonesboro Road, one door away from its old location.

The council denied Tops Showbar's request, siding with residents who argue that two strip clubs in such close proximity is one too many.

Lawyers from both clubs threatened the mayor and council Monday night with lawsuits. Lawyers for The Crazy Horse Saloon said they would sue if the city cleared the way for Tops Showbar to move in, while lawyers for Tops Showbar threatened to sue the city, if their request is denied.

"Having two right next to each other just leads to the question, 'When will there be more?'" said Darnell Moorer, a political activist, who is now retired. He compared the proliferation of prostitution on Atlanta's old Stewart Avenue (now Metropolitan Parkway) to what would happen if the city allowed the two strip clubs to operate next to each other.

"We think it will breed derelict living and activity," said Moorer. "We don't need it, not so close to our home. One is enough."

For almost a year, Terry Stephenson, owner of the Tops Showbar franchise, has leased the old Crazy Horse property. In March of last year, Stephenson applied for an adult entertainment license for the business, but the city has not yet approved it, according to Alan Begner, his attorney.

Begner believes The Crazy Horse, which filed for an adult entertainment license for its new location last August, is receiving preferential treatment from the city.

"This is clearly a grandfathered location entitled for both [adult entertainment and liquor licenses]," said Begner. "Forest Park has allowed Crazy Horse to get a new license next door and has changed the law to accommodate them. They processed their application, although our application has been sitting there for five months, or more. The Supreme Court has ruled that adult licenses must be granted, or denied, in about 60 days.

"It's prior restraint ... they do not ensure a speedy process," Begner added. "We've been on hold for over a year and that is pretty good evidence that not only is it not written in [city ordinances], but that they don't feel that they have to comply," the attorney said.

Begner said he will file a lawsuit against the city on the basis that the city ordinances are "patently unconstitutional."

Aubrey Villines, a lawyer representing The Crazy Horse Saloon, believes the city has a legal basis to keep Tops Showbar from operating in the city. He said he will file for an injunction if Begner does sue.

"The ordinances and the rules have always prohibited the bars from being this close," Villines said. "We've played by those rules. They are asking them to change the rules.

"We have some property that we feel needs to be protected," Villines added. "We believe the city has passed ordinances that are enforceable against us and them."

In other action ...

City leaders voted unanimously to increase the salaries of the mayor and council by 20 percent. The raises will go into effect in January 2010.

The council also voted to allot $34,000 for the purchase of ten new electronic voting machines.

John Parker, Forest Park city manager, said the mayor's yearly salary would increase from $15,000 to $18,000, while the salaries of city councilmembers will increase from $12,000 to $14,400 a year. He said the last time the city raised the salaries of its governing body members was 15 years ago.

"The job has increased in activity 100 fold," Parker said. "There are more trips, more phone calls, four times more meetings. It's still grossly underpaid, but nonetheless, it helps to take care of the expenses. There are some things they are reimbursed for, but not everything."

Parker said the new voting machines will enable the city to hold elections if the county were to hold an election at the same time as the city. Currently, the city rents all of its voting equipment from the Clayton County Board of Elections and Registration.

"If the county has an election and the city has one at the same time, there is not enough machines for both of them," he said. Parker said the purchase is "prudent and in the best interest of the city."