WESTBROOK – The lawyer for a man who opened a full-nudity strip club on Warren Avenue last week is denying city officials’ allegations that his client was deceptive about his plans for the business.
Tom Hallett said Thursday that Larry Ferrante never indicated to city officials that he planned to operate a pool hall and arcade at Dreamers, as Westbrook officials have said.
The club opened Sept. 17 and was closed the next day, after city fire officials said they found code violations involving fire alarms, sprinkler coverage and state construction permits.
In the wake of the short-lived opening, the City Council quickly resurrected an ordinance — drafted, but never passed, a year ago — to regulate strip clubs, with provisions banning full nudity and setting minimum distances from schools, parks, playgrounds, churches and libraries.
The ordinance’s proposed effective date is Sept. 22 — five days after Dreamers opened.
City officials contend that Dreamers opened illegally because of inaccurate representations of what would happen there, as well as construction that was done indoors without a permit. They also contend that Dreamers will have to comply with the ordinance if it’s passed by the council.
Hallett says that because the business opened before the ordinance was submitted, it would be exempt under a city code that now imposes no restrictions on nude dancing.
Hallett said there’s no documentation that Ferrante ever indicated the nondescript building in the city’s industrial zone would be a pool hall and arcade, although City Administrator Jerre Bryant said that’s what Ferrante told a code enforcement officer.
Hallett said Ferrante told a fire inspector that he would hold “events” at the club, and a change-of-use application that Ferrante submitted said the club would be a private recreation facility.
The fire inspector said the use of the building for “events” would require upgraded fire alarms, Hallett said, and issued a certificate of occupancy after Ferrante provided a signed contract for the work with an alarm company.
He said the fire inspector never pressed to find out what events would be held at Dreamers.
Hallett also said he has offered to negotiate with the city over the club, but has been rebuffed.
Bryant said, “I have no problem discussing the situation. However, we do not negotiate life safety codes.”
He said Ferrante’s statements to code inspectors about the pool hall and arcade are key because fire safety requirements vary based on the intensity of use. A pool hall, he said, would draw fewer people than a nude dance club, so when inspectors returned to Dreamers the day after it opened, they were looking for more fire safety equipment than during the original inspection.
On that second visit, Bryant said, inspectors also determined that Ferrante had done additional construction inside the club without getting a permit, so a code violation was cited involving construction permits.
Hallett said Ferrante never applied for permits that would be required for a pool hall and arcade. That, and the “private recreational” use he indicated on other city forms, should have made officials realize he wasn’t going to operate a pool hall or arcade, Hallett said.
“They never asked about the specific use,” Hallett said. “If they had asked specifically if it was going to be nude dancing, he would have said, ‘Yes.’ “
Hallett said Ferrante is now being subjected to “bureaucratic harassment” as city officials drag their feet on issuing Ferrante permits to do the work called for after the second inspection.
Bryant said Ferrante’s plans are being reviewed. He could not say when they might be approved or rejected.
Staff Writer Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at: