The manager of a Stone Park strip club seeking to open a topless bar on Industrial Drive here in Forest Park had his applications for a business license and a liquor license rejected last week, but plans to fight the village’s decision in court.
In a Dec. 5 letter, Village Attorney Mike Durkin leaned on a state statute in denying the business license. That law takes an even harder line than does the local zoning code and prohibits Ken DeGori from opening a nude bar within one mile of the protected uses such as schools, parks, churches and cemeteries.
A recently adopted zoning ordinance puts that setback requirement at 500 feet, and does not list cemeteries as a protected use.
“I’m pretty sure there isn’t any location in Forest Park that isn’t within one mile of [a statutorily protected land use],” Durkin said.
Portions of the application were also incomplete, said Durkin.
As for the liquor license sought by DeGori, the village does not currently have a Class A license available. Whether to make another license available will be discussed at the Dec. 17 council meeting, according to Durkin’s letter. However, portions of that application were also insufficient, said Durkin.
Attorney Larry Byrne is representing DeGori and DeGori’s co-applicant Chris Wessels, who owns the property on Industrial Drive for which the licenses were sought. Byrne said Friday that village officials are trampling his clients’ First Amendment right to free speech. He pointed squarely at the recently adopted zoning amendment that targeted the address identified in his clients’ application as the proposed site for the business.
DeGori and Wessels submitted their request for a liquor license and an entertainment license on Nov. 7, more than a week before the new zoning laws were unveiled at a Nov. 19 Zoning Board of Appeals meeting. According to the zoning, which was created specifically to regulate the location of sexually explicit businesses in the village, 7865 Industrial Drive is not an acceptable location. Public officials said that a nearby forest preserve falls within the 500-foot setback requirement established by the new code.
The village council formally adopted these regulations on Nov. 26.
“We’re going to challenge this on constitutional grounds,” Byrne said.
Should the village find itself in a court battle on the issue, Durkin said local officials will defend the decision. Again, the first wall of the defense in denying the application is the state law, said Durkin.
“They’ll have to have the state statute declared unconstitutional, and they would have to have the village’s zoning ordinance reviewed as a separate issue,” Durkin said.
Prior to the council’s vote in November, Wessels said he had no plans to engage the village in a legal battle, but hinted recently that he is leaving his options open with respect to joining any legal challenge to the village’s decision.
In addition to the zoning district created by the village last month, a lengthy set of licensing guidelines for sexually explicit businesses was also created. Individual employees must register with the municipality, nude dancers are not to collect tips from customers and at no point is a performer to come in contact with club patrons.
Though he declined to say specifically which sections of the zoning and licensing codes might be challenged in court, Byrne said there are a number of arguments to make.
“If you look at their ordinance I think you’ll find other parts of it that clash with the First Amendment,” Byrne said.