WESTBROOK – Westbrook’s Zoning Board of Appeals denied the request of Dreamers Cabaret to reinstate the strip club’s certificate of occupancy, but that did not prevent a gathering at the club just days later featuring a disco ball and loud music.

The zoning board met on Dec. 1 and rendered a decision against Dreamers, a strip club on Warren Avenue the city shut down one day after it opened on Sept. 17.

Then, on Dec. 5 at 12:47 a.m., police patrols doing “routine commercial building checks” on Warren Avenue came upon activity that appeared to indicate Dreamers was open for business, violating city ordinances requiring an occupancy permit, according to a Westbrook police report.

When police arrived, there was loud music playing inside the club that was audible from the outside and a disco ball and night club lighting were in effect inside, police Chief Bill Baker said.

City inspectors were called to the scene, the chief said. Larry Ferrante, the club owner, was not present, but a man named Adam Goodwin acted as the person in charge, Baker said.

Goodwin conferred with his attorney by cell phone and told officers that the other males present were plumbers making emergency plumbing repairs, and that the women on scene were simply bringing them coffee, the chief said.

Police were unable to identify any licensed plumbers or evidence of emergency work at the scene, he said.

During the investigation, police arrested Lacresha Edgerly, 27, of 1124 Brighton Ave., Portland, on an outstanding warrant.

Baker declined to release additional details.

When reached for comment, Ferrante referred questions to his attorney, Thomas Hallett. He could not be reached before the American Journal’s deadline.

Meanwhile, Dreamers Cabaret plans to appeal to Cumberland County Superior Court after the zoning board denied the strip club’s request to reinstate its certificate of occupancy.

No appeal had officially been filed by Wednesday, but Hallett has said an appeal is definitely forthcoming.

He called the board’s decision “unfortunate,” but fully anticipated.

“That’s how these things tend to work,” he said.

Hallett and Ferrante appeared unfazed by the board’s actions during the Dec. 1 meeting. The pair left 40 minutes into the two-hour meeting, before hearing a decision.

Board chairman Aaron Burns commented at times on their early departure. There were moments when the board might have sought their opinions.

“It is what it is. They don’t have to stay here if they don’t want to,” he said.

It was the third and decisive meeting in Dreamers’ appeal of city code enforcement officer Rick Gouzie’s revocation of the club’s certificate of occupancy on Sept. 21. Gouzie’s actions followed those of fire inspector Capt. Charles Jarrett, who shut the club down for fire code violations the day after it caught the city unaware with its opening.

Officials did not know Dreamers was going to be a strip club. Ferrante testified during the board hearings that he intentionally withheld that information because he was concerned about the perception of nude entertainment establishments.

His team has argued, though, that he was not required to divulge that information because Westbrook did not have an ordinance regulating strip clubs. Hallett has said the city shut down the business for its content and only used the violations as a pretext.

The City Council has since passed a nude entertainment ordinance restricting where such clubs can locate and what content they can provide patrons.

Hallett tried to convince the board that Gouzie was not authorized to revoke the certificate of occupancy. He said that, as a strip club, Dreamers is afforded certain freedom of expression protections under the First Amendment. The city was required to first attempt less restrictive measures to rectify any violations, he said.

The board largely ignored that claim in its findings, which stated the International Building Code gives the code enforcement officer authority to revoke a certificate of occupancy.

According to the board, Gouzie was justified in taking the occupancy permit from Dreamers because he had issued it in error. The decision states he made the error because Ferrante deliberately withheld information about the nature of the business at 84B Warren Ave.

Hallett posed the club’s closure as a First Amendment issue, but the city said it had nothing to do with nude dancing. According to city officials, Ferrante needed to tell the city there would be any form of live entertainment, nude or otherwise.

The board agreed, saying that if Jarrett knew there would be live entertainment he would have calculated the property’s occupancy differently and would have implicated other fire code provisions.

“The information that he withheld was crucial to the proper determination of the applicable city codes and regulations,” a portion of the board’s decision states.

The board further upheld Gouzie’s actions by determining Ferrante violated building and fire codes by erecting a wall without a permit.

The board’s 12-page findings, prepared beforehand by its attorney, tended to align closely with those Natalie Burns, an attorney with the city, submitted to the board in the days preceding the meeting.

Even where there was conflicting testimony, the board sided with the city’s version of events. During an inspection on Sept. 10, Jarrett informed Ferrante he needed to install a fire alarm system. Jarrett denied Ferrante’s claim that Jarrett gave permission to open the “private recreational facility” immediately as long as he provided a contract showing the alarm would be installed within 30 days.

Their testimonies directly conflicted, but Aaron Burns said he found Jarrett’s more plausible.

The decision of the zoning board stayed away from any constitutional arguments because it lacked jurisdiction. That matter could be taken up in a pending U.S. District Court lawsuit.

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