The bar had been offering dancing for months before zoning regulations were put into place.
HOWLAND -- The Howland board of zoning appeals unanimously voted not to allow exotic dancing in a township bar, despite advice from its attorney that dancing is a form of expression that cannot be barred.
"It is protected under the constitution," Howland law director Jim Sakar told the board. "The township cannot prohibit it."
Cafe 83, on North River Road N.E., had been featuring dancing for about 8 months when Howland Police Chief Steve Lamantia walked in on it one Friday morning in March.
What he saw: A dancer, wearing a G-string and pasties under a "filmy-type, see-through-type top" walked up to him and flipped the end of his tie, he told the board. When he saw the woman later, "she was sitting on a gentleman's lap and doing some sort of dancing gyrations on the person," he told the board.
The bar's proprietor, Patricia A. Minotti, said she strictly prohibits dancers from touching customers, and described a slightly less risqu & eacute; costume she will now require that they wear.
In any case, what he witnessed was legal, the police chief said.
"From a law-enforcement standpoint, that conduct is protected by the first amendment and rights of free speech," Lamantia said.
Zoning violation: It did, however, run afoul of a township zoning ordinance, approved just the previous month, which required special permission for "adult entertainment" businesses.
The ordinance requires that these businesses be located only in industrial areas, more than 500 feet from residences, churches, libraries or government offices. Cafe 83 meets these requirements.
Minotti said she has lived in the township all her life and has no intention of hurting it.
"This is strictly adults in an industrial area," she said.
Two residents spoke out against permitting the dancing to resume at Cafe 83.
"It is immoral and it is going to lead to the downfall of many people," said David Luther, who identified himself as a local pastor. "Howland Township has a good reputation, and let's not blow it."
Conditional use: The board spent about an hour discussing the precise wording of the conditional-use permit, including requiring that dancers wear a minimum of pasties and a G-string.
"We heard testimony that this will change the reputation not only of the industrial area, but also of Howland Township," said Robert Tucker, the board chairman. "But we heard testimony from our adviser that we can't stop them."
The board slowed them down, at any rate. Tucker said Minotti had to wait 30 days before she could appeal their decision.