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AUSTINTOWN Strip club vows to fight restrictions



Published: Mon, September 23, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The two strip clubs in the township will be given 90 days to comply with the resolution once it takes effect.

By IAN HILL

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

AUSTINTOWN -- Battle lines are being drawn in the fight over this township's new strip club ordinance.

On one side are the township trustees, who said they passed the resolution Monday night in an effort to prevent crime and protect the image of their community. The resolution, which takes effect in 30 days, requires strip club owners, strippers and other club employees to get licenses to work in the township.

On the other side are the owner and management of The Babylon strip club on Javit Court and the club's attorneys, Scott Cochran of Youngstown and Luke Lirot of Tampa, Fla. The attorneys and club management believe the club has not had a negative effect on the community and that the resolution is unfair.

Cochran said the club may try to have township voters decide if the resolution is needed. The club would need to circulate petitions and collect a number of signatures equal to 10 percent of the number of voters in the last gubernatorial election to place the resolution on the ballot.

The resolution could appear on the May 2003 ballot. The deadline to place issues on the November ballot has passed.

"I have yet to hear a citizen of Austintown Township speak to the [trustees] in favor of the legislation," Cochran noted.

Cochran said that if the club doesn't put the resolution on the ballot, it will take the trustees to court.

Club's argument

At Monday's trustees meeting, Lirot, the national chairman of the First Amendment Lawyer's Association, described the club's argument against the resolution. He said U.S. Supreme Court rulings show that the studies the trustees use to justify the resolution should not be applied in Austintown.

The studies, which are from cities such as Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Phoenix and New York, state that strip clubs can increase crime rates and decrease property values and quality of life. Lirot said that according to the Supreme Court, the studies cannot be used to support strip club regulations in communities that already have strip clubs.

Government officials in those communities must determine that their local strip clubs have a negative effect on quality of life to justify regulating the clubs, Lirot said.

Lirot added that police receive more reports from The Mill nightclub on South Raccoon Road than they do from The Babylon, and that state law allows the trustees to shut down The Babylon if they feel it's a nuisance.

The U.S. Supreme Court has determined that if a community can shut down a strip club as a nuisance, and there is another nightclub in the community that has a greater negative effect on quality of life, trustees cannot pass a resolution that targets strip clubs, Lirot said.

A different interpretation

Trustee David Ditzler, however, said that the township's attorney, Alan Weinstein, has a different interpretation of the studies and the Supreme Court decisions. Ditzler said Weinstein, a professor of law and urban studies at Cleveland State University, believes that the court and the studies allow the trustees to pass the resolution.

Ditzler also noted that police received 94 calls for service from The Babylon between April 2001 and Sept. 1, 2002. During those same months, police received 79 calls from Bill's Place bar on Mahoning Avenue; 21 calls from Rumors Lounge on state Route 46; and 284 calls from Club 76, a strip club on Seventy-six drive. Attorneys for the Babylon did not total the number of calls to The Mill.

The attorneys, however, pointed to a half-inch stack of papers that they said were calls to The Mill from January 2001 to September 2002. The stack of calls to the Babylon was about one-quarter-inch thick for the same time period.

New requirements

Club 76 and The Babylon are the only two strip clubs in the township. The resolution requires employees of those clubs to pay $100 and pass a criminal background check to prove they haven't been convicted of a sex crime before they receive a license.

Strip club owners would have to pay $350 and pass a background check to get a license.

The resolution also prohibits strippers from appearing completely nude in a club, dancing on a stage that is less than three feet from customers, and touching a customer or a customer's clothing. Ditzler said the Babylon and Club 76 will be given 90 days to comply with the resolution after it takes effect.

hill@vindy.com




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