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Foes ready to battle nude dance ban

A proposed Pasco County ordinance would force nude or seminude dance clubs to relocate to industrial parks and stop serving alcohol.

When Pasco County officials unveiled their long-awaited adult entertainment ordinance Tuesday, Luke Lirot was prepared.

The lawyer, who made a name for himself representing Tampa nude-dance club king Joe Redner, sat in the front row Tuesday with his new client: Calendar Girls owner Jim Dato. Also in front was a court reporter he hired from Christine Hawthorne Court Reporting, who diligently took down every word uttered about the ordinance even though the document was only being introduced and is months away from adoption.

"We're preparing for a challenge," Lirot said outside the commission chambers. He called the county's ordinance "a thinly veiled attempt" to put the adult entertainment bars along U.S. 19 in Hudson out of business _ a move he said could cost the county an untold amount of money if a current business owner sues.

"This is a regulatory taking. It amounts to an eminent domain," Lirot said, referring to a procedure governments use when they take over private land for a public purpose, such as to widen a road. Landowners and business owners must be compensated under those circumstances.

County officials disagree. Assistant County Attorney R.C. Burnette, who drafted the 41-page ordinance, said he modeled Pasco County's version after other cities' and counties' adult entertainment ordinances that had survived court challenges.

In its current form, Pasco's proposed ordinance would require all clubs that feature nude or seminude dancing to stop serving alcohol and move to industrial parks. Immediately upon adoption of the ordinance, existing clubs would have to make a choice between alcohol or nude and seminude dancers, Burnette said. The clubs would then have 30 days to get a license to operate and one year to move to an area zoned highly industrial, of which there are 75 parcels in the county, he said.

Burnette dismissed the idea that the county could be setting itself up to pay damages to clubs that claim the county is making an illegal taking of their businesses.

"Takings law is very complicated. It depends a great deal on the specifics of any case," Burnette said. "It's not a slam dunk thing."

Nude dancing is protected under the First Amendment but is subject to governmental regulation. For example, local governments can restrict the clubs to certain kinds of zoning, such as industrial parks, and revoke their alcohol licenses.

Pasco's ordinance would essentially force all the adult clubs, bookstores, lingerie modeling shops and massage parlors that dot U.S. 19 and surrounding streets in Hudson to close or relocate within one year.

Burnette said there have been numerous court cases that allowed local governments to limit the amount of time an existing adult club could remain in its current location before being required to comply with new zoning requirements.

"It's been anywhere from three to five months to a year or two," Burnette said.

But Lirot, who successfully challenged Citrus County's adult entertainment ordinance several years ago, said the county would be wise to let the existing businesses stay and require new ones to open only in industrial parks. Citrus County settled Lirot's lawsuit for close to $400,000.

"If the county really wanted a successful ordinance, they would grandfather the (existing) clubs," Lirot said.

But that probably wouldn't satisfy the group of vocal Hudson residents who have begged county commissioners to rid their neighborhoods of the clubs. Several residents turned out for Tuesday's meeting and encouraged commissioners to adopt the ordinance.

"We all feel that this has been a long time coming," resident Eric West said. He added that he wanted to stop such establishments from opening in Pasco County.

"And I feel this will do it."