WESTBROOK — The City Council planned to hold a special early-morning meeting today to take initial action on an ordinance to regulate nude dancing in Westbrook.
The 7:30 a.m. meeting at City Hall, with an opportunity for public comment, comes two days after city officials revoked the occupancy permit of a new strip club that was shut down during the weekend because of several alleged code violations.
The fully nude club, Dreamers Cabaret, at 84B Warren Ave., opened Friday but closed Saturday after the city’s fire inspector cited code problems related to sprinkler coverage, fire alarms and state construction permits.
Larry Ferrante, president of The Ferrante Group Inc., apparently opened the club without the city’s knowledge. He didn’t need a business license from the city because he was not selling food or alcohol.
City officials say they were unaware that Dreamers Cabaret planned nude dancing. They say Ferrante was granted an occupancy permit based on a proposal to operate an arcade and pool hall.
The proposed ordinance outlines rules for nude dancing. It would prohibit total nudity and require the operator to get a permit from the code enforcement officer before opening a strip club.
It also would prohibit a nude dancing establishment from operating within 500 feet of a school, a playground or park, a place of worship or a library.
Dreamers Cabaret is in the city’s industrial zone, which far exceeds the 500-foot requirement. It is 1.3 miles from Riverbank Park and less than a mile from PT’s Show Club in Portland, another strip club.
The ordinance would also prohibit alcohol from being sold or served, and would prevent people from bringing their own alcohol to the club. Some city officials questioned Tuesday whether Ferrante allowed his customers to bring their own alcohol.
The lawyer representing the club, Thomas Hallett of Portland, said that was not true.
Today, the council is expected to refer the proposed ordinance to its Committee of the Whole, which is composed of all seven councilors. The committee will review the ordinance and meet on Oct. 18 to make a recommendation to the council.
City officials expressed shock and confusion Tuesday over the opening of Dreamers.
Councilor John O’Hara, who chairs the Committee of the Whole, said he believes Ferrante deceived city officials.
“It should have been presented more clearly to us,” O’Hara said. “Clearly, in all cities, there is some form of adult entertainment but I don’t know if our city is ready for that.”
Mayor Colleen Hilton said she heard Friday afternoon that Dreamers Cabaret had opened.
“It’s pretty clear to me that there was intentional deceit by the club’s owner,” Hilton said. “We are still sorting through our options legally. Do I want a strip club in Westbrook? We need to consider the resource impact this will have on the community with police calls, fire and rescue calls, traffic impacts and safety. All of those things need to be considered.”
Councilor Suzanne Joyce said she is “strongly opposed to a strip club in the city.”
Westbrook has no ordinances that regulate nudity or exotic dancing. O’Hara said the ordinance to be discussed today was drafted about a year ago – but never approved – after someone expressed interest in opening a strip club in the city.
“Unfortunately, bigger issues took priority and we did not attend to business,” O’Hara said.
Hallett said the proposed ordinance would not affect the club.
“Dreamers Cabaret would be grandfathered,” he said. “Once you’re open for business, you are grandfathered. They are trying to put the horse back in the barn, and it can’t be done.”
City Solicitor Bill Dale did not return calls seeking comment Tuesday.
Some people at Riverbank Park on Tuesday raised concerns that a club would create additional problems for the city.
“It’s not Vegas,” said Victoria Gagnon of Portland, who visits Westbrook daily. “There’s enough trouble in Westbrook. They don’t need any more.”
Bethany Mitchell of Dunn Street said she doesn’t like the idea of a strip club operating in the city. “I don’t think the city of Westbrook needs one,” she said.
Mark Giobbi of Portland drives on Warren Avenue regularly to get to Westbrook. He said a strip club doesn’t belong in the city.
“People live here for the good family atmosphere, not to see girls take their clothes off,” he said. “People call it entertainment, but is it really?”
Staff Writer Melanie Creamer can be contacted at 791-6361 or at: [email protected]