The Westbrook City Council gave preliminary approval Monday night to an ordinance that would allow strip clubs to operate in the city’s industrial zones. Restrictions would include a requirement that dancers be partially covered up.
Mayor Colleen Hilton said the ordinance received unanimous approval on a first reading. It must go through a public hearing and a second reading – scheduled for Nov. 1 – before it can be enacted.
A representative for Dreamers Cabaret, the club on Warren Avenue that led councilors to consider the ordinance, said it is poorly crafted and unconstitutional.
The strip club opened Sept. 17 with fully nude dancers and was closed the next day, after the city’s fire inspector cited code violations related to fire alarms, sprinkler coverage and state construction permits. City officials said the building’s septic system was not equipped to handle the 300 people it had the potential to serve.
Dreamers Cabaret remains closed. Last week, a federal judge denied a request from the club’s owner, Larry Ferrante, to temporarily reinstate the club’s occupancy permit.
Hilton said the public will have one final chance to weigh in on the ordinance, at the council meeting Nov. 1. No one spoke at Monday’s hearing.
Hilton said the ordinance would bar dancers from touching customers, including performing “lap dances.”
Dancers’ genitals could not be exposed, and their nipples would have to be covered with pasties, Hilton said. Dancers also would be prohibited from tossing their garments into the audience.
Strip clubs would be restricted to the city’s industrial zones and would not be allowed to remain open past 1 a.m. They would not be allowed to serve alcohol, though they could get permits allowing customers to bring their own. Dreamers Cabaret was granted such a “bottle club” permit earlier this month.
Tom Hallett, the lawyer for Dreamers Cabaret, said after Monday’s meeting: “We think this ordinance is trying to come through the back door to prohibit adult entertainment.
“When Dreamers opened, none of this was in place,” he said. “It strikes us as an attempt to restrict our freedom of speech.”
Hallett said the ordinance would not apply to Dreamers Cabaret because it would be retroactive to Sept. 22 – five days after the club opened.
But City Administrator Jerre Bryant said the ordinance would apply to Dreamers Cabaret. “Our position has been they were not legally open and therefore can’t be grandfathered,” he said.
Hallett said there is a good possibility that the issue will wind up in court.
Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at: [email protected]