After nearly four hours of discussion, a divided North Miami City Council voted Tuesday to repeal an ordinance that banned the sale and consumption of alcohol and adult entertainment in the same establishment.
The decision came down to a 3-2 vote with the dissents coming from Councilman Michael Blynn and Mayor Andre Pierre, who had voted for the repeal on first reading.
We had the opportunity to listen to what the pros and the cons were, and there were very persuasive arguments on both sides, Pierre said. I kept going back and forth.
Tuesday nights meeting drew a large crowd to the council chambers. Many residents had to sit in the lobby area or stand because of a lack of space.
The Sunny Isles Eatery, the group that asked for the ordinance change, explained its plan to invest nearly $2 million into the former Locks Co. building at 2050 NE 151st St., to open an adult-entertainment club.
Although there are several other adult entertainment clubs surrounding North Miami, such as Deans Gold and Swinging Richards, this will be the only one of its kind within the city limits.
For Blynn the choice to vote against lifting the alcohol ban came down to morality.
We have a high moral standard in our community, and we are not going to lower them, said Blynn. He added the mix of alcohol and nudity would tarnish the family-friendly image of the city. Good people do not attend places of that nature.
But Councilman Scott Galvin said the council wasnt in the position to judge morality.
Its not for the North Miami City Council to legislate morality, said Galvin. If I am opposed to liquor, it doesnt mean I have to shut down every liquor store in the area.
Prior to picking the North Miami site, the Sunny Isles Eatery ran Thee Dollhouse, which later changed its name to Beach House Cabaret, on Sunny Isle Beach.
The location closed after the city decided to create a park in the area the club stood, according to Jeff Cazeau, the attorney representing Sunny Isles Eatery.
This is a business that wants to be a good neighbor, Cazeau said. Were talking about 100 people employed when the club opens. That number does not include dancers.
Cazeau assured the council and residents that his clients have made agreements with the city about the look and operations of the club, which include no flashing neon signs with words such as girls, girls, girls, and the club will open mid-afternoon to accommodate concerns about it operating during school hours, according to Cazeau.
Sunny Isles Eatery has also agreed to hire two off-duty North Miami police officers on site nightly for its first six months in business. That number will go down to one off-duty officer, and ultimately, the need for police presence will be discussed with the city manager.
The company also agreed to donate $100,000 to a charity to be selected in consultation with the city manager.
But many residents strongly opposed allowing adult-entertainment bars in the city.
I believe it is wrong as it exploits women, said Pastor Jack Hakimian of Impact Miami Church, adding some of his worries center around human trafficking, prostitution and the impact the club will have on families.
Hakimian was one of several local clergy who spoke to the morality of having such a club within the citys boundaries.
We do not view alcohol as a sin, we look at drunkenness as a sin. The issue is the behaviors that come with mixing nudity and alcohol, Hakimian said.
His disappointment was shared with Community Television Foundation of South Florida, WPBT-2, which is in the same district as the planned club.
I thought it would restore my faith in local government, but it didnt, said Rick Schneider, CEO of Community Television Foundation of South Florida.
During the meeting Schneider said he feels a club wouldnt fit the area.
For me this isnt about adult entertainment and their right to exist. Of course, they do. This isnt about morality or free speech, said Schneider, adding children are often at the television station which airs nightly broadcasts from that location. Alcohol is what makes it problematic. Its the combination of alcohol sales at adult entertainment venues that creates a concern.
Other concerns ranged from crime rates going up, drug use, and the social impacts the club would have on the community.
On the point of public safety Cazeau assured the council his clients had a good track record at their previous establishment and would continue it in their new facility.
In favor of the new rules, the council heard from former patrons of Sunny Isles Eaterys previous club and from Laurie Allen, director of the South Florida Circus Art School, which trains circus performers at a facility across the street from the proposed adult-entertainment club.
We are all making quick judgments based on our perceived notion of strip clubs. This isnt an issue of morality or whats going in there, Allen said. This is reality. Miami needs an economic boost and this is a valuable business that is coming in to make the neighborhood alive again.
Hakimian said he is considering the next course of action against this club and others in the community. The options so far include protesting the club and getting candidates on the ballot for the next election who are willing to overturn the vote.
Of course we are not happy with the decision they made. We are basically deciding what we are going to do, Hakimian said.
The Sunny Isles Eatery plans to open the club in about a year, according to Cazeau.
This is a multibillion dollar industry someone is going to these clubs. They exist in every neighborhood, he said. I would venture to guess that there is a substantial number of people in this community, or in the area, who will be there and the business will succeed.
In addition to lifting the ban, the council voted 3-2 to approve new rules requiring that any adult entertainment establishments that serve alcohol be located in an industrial district and at least 1,500 feet from any school, house of worship, home or other business that sells alcohol. Councilman Blynn and Councilman Jean R. Marcellus casted the opposing votes.
Since the proposed new club does not comply with the 1,500-foot rule, the property owner will now have to go to the board of adjustment to request a zoning variance to waive the distance requirements for that site.