Oak Harbor readies laws aimed at adult businesses

From the left, Mayor Jim Slowik, Councilman Rick Almberg, Councilman Jim Campbell and Development Services Direct Steve Powers review a map with adult business buffer zones around schools, churches and residential neighborhoods. - Jenny Manning/Whidbey News-Times
From the left, Mayor Jim Slowik, Councilman Rick Almberg, Councilman Jim Campbell and Development Services Direct Steve Powers review a map with adult business buffer zones around schools, churches and residential neighborhoods.
— image credit: Jenny Manning/Whidbey News-Times

Oak Harbor City Attorney Margery Hite and Prosecutor Bill Hawkins briefed Mayor Jim Slowik and others at a governmental services standing committee meeting last week about several “emergency” laws to regulate erotic dance within city limits.

Hite touched on licensing requirements for business owners and performers and Hawkins addressed zoning regulations.

The proposed ordinance will go before the City Council in three sections, Hawkins said.

The first ordinance will place a ban on nudity, a second will impose specific licensing regulations for owners and employees, and the last ordinance will establish zoning restrictions, he said.

“Believe it or not, the Supreme Court ruled that nude dancing is constitutionally protected,” Hawkins said, adding, “Barely by the skin of its teeth.”

Hawkins explained that they city’s hands are tied.

“We cannot ban (exotic entertainment). What we need to do is assimilate it,” he said. “We decide where they can do it and how they conduct business.”

Hawkins continued his presentation with a disclaimer, “We’re going to get somewhat specific and graphic.”

“People are not doing this for artistic expression. There’s a lot of money here. Historically the industry makes $13 billion a year and is associated with drugs, prostitution and it drives down property values,” Hawkins said.

There are a few regulations the city can use in its favor, he added.

Washington courts have followed federal courts, which means the city can completely ban lap and table dancing and impose other regulations, including a 10-foot separation between dancers and clients. The employer will be required to provide separate restrooms for employees and customers; no club activity will be visible from outside the business; and there will be no public booths, locking doors, alcohol, minors, direct tipping or any form of contact between dancers and patrons.

“It becomes very important that this is monitored,” he said.

However, Oak Harbor’s weakness is that the city has a limited number of undercover police officers available to oversee this kind of activity, he said.

“That’s the best we can do,” Hawkins said. “Let me say it again. That’s the best we can do.”

City Attorney Hite added that although the city cannot ban adult entertainment, the city can regulate the negative associated effects.

One of the three ordinances that will go before the council at its next meeting will propose temporary zoning regulations. The code currently lacks zoning restrictions for adult entertainment business, she said.

If approved by the council, the interim code would create a buffer zone around schools, parks, churches and residential neighborhoods.

“This is an effort to create a temporary location,” she said.

“If you don’t have regulation, then there is no prohibition on where they can be.”

Hite and Hawkins presented the group with a draft map of the proposed buffer zones, which created two possible locations for adult entertainment: the Safeway shopping center complex on the corner of Barrington Drive and Highway 20, and the Dollar Store area on Midway Boulevard.

Mayor Jim Slowik appeared visibly uncomfortable at the idea of an adult entertainment business near a grocery store because it’s a popular venue for people of all ages.

Hite called the map “our best guess,” but added that there are other ways to draw the buffer zones.

It is the city’s responsibility to provide more than one area for these businesses, said Development Services Director Steve Powers.

“We can’t create a regulation that creates zero spots or only one spot,” he said.

Three members of the community voiced their opinions at the Tuesday morning meeting, including Penny Skurdal who’s plain troubled by the possibility of adult entertainment in Oak Harbor.

“I don’t understand how we can say it’s OK,” she said. “Can’t we stand? I know people are going to do what they’re going to do in private, but as a community it alarms me.”

Bible Baptist Church pastors Chris Magros and Tim Geist also put in their two-cents.

Magros shared four personal experiences he’s had with people affected by the lure of earning a quick buck as exotic dancers.

“The thought of one of my little girls coming close to one of these places is enough to put me in a rage,” he said.

Magros added that if there’s any way Oak Harbor can fight off adult entertainment, then they should pull out all the stops.

“If we become a lightning rod, so be it,” he said.

Geist sympathized with the council members and city staff at the meeting.

“I know a lot of you in this room are not able to attack this from a moral standpoint and that’s why people like us are here,” he said.

The Oak Harbor City Council will address several “emergency” laws to regulate erotic dance within city limits at their next meeting Tuesday, March 23, at City Hall, 865 SE Barrington Dr., at 6 p.m.

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