Oak Harbor bans public nudity, regulates adult businesses

The Oak Harbor City Council approved a trio of laws to ban public nudity, and license and zone adult entertainment within city limits following more than four hours of public comment and discussion.

The first issue on Tuesday night’s docket, a ban on public nudity, passed by a 6-0 vote. This will require exotic dancers to be partially covered.

A second proposal, to regulate adult entertainment licenses for club owners and employees, also passed unanimously.

The final topic that addressed zoning rules for exotic dancing businesses — an emergency motion — required a majority plus one vote to pass.

The emergency zoning ordinance passed with a 5-1 vote and went into effect immediately at approximately 11:30 p.m. Tuesday. The decision created a 750-foot buffer zone around all schools, parks and churches and a 100-foot buffer zone around residential neighborhoods.

Councilman Scott Dudley told his fellow council members that his intention to cast a dissenting vote was based on a belief that neighborhoods should be afforded the same buffer as schools, churches and parks.

Development Services Director Steve Powers presented a map at the meeting that illustrated where the temporary ordinance would allow adult entertainment-type businesses within city limits. According to the map, the locations currently available are on the northeast corner of Highway 20 and 16th Avenue, in the area of Highway 20 and 11th Avenue, and across the street from the intersection of Goldie Road and Technical Drive.

Council members Beth Munns, Danny Paggao, Jim Palmer, Rick Almberg and Bob Severns voted in favor; Councilman Scott Dudley cast the sole dissenting vote. Councilman Jim Campbell was previously excused from the meeting.

More than 30 people spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting. All but one speaker opposed allowing adult entertainment in Oak Harbor. Mothers, fathers, pastors, even a former stripper cautioned the council about the negative effects of strip clubs.

Oak Harbor already has enough problems, said Nicole Brown, who described herself as a former exotic dancer.

Brown grew up on Whidbey Island before she embarked on a four-year dancing career that took her to Seattle, Miami, Austin, Houston and Dallas. She chose to move back to the island to “get away from that lifestyle,” she told the council.

Jeff Waldron likened a strip club in Oak Harbor to a putrid piece of fruit in a bowl of fresh produce.

“Take a rotten piece of fruit and put it in the middle of that bowl and see what happens,” he said. It’ll spoil the whole bunch, he added.

The 27-year-old mother of five, whose proposal for a nude dance club sparked the passionate debate, spent more than two hours at the meeting before leaving.

Michelle O’Kelley plans to open a “gentleman’s club” as a money-making venture to put her kids through college.

She assured the council that her plans include “physical barriers” between patrons and dancers “to avoid touching, mingling and chit-chat.”

“My business goal is to sustain a successful business and put five kids through college,” O’Kelley said in an interview with the Whidbey News-Times last week.

Until Tuesday night, Oak Harbor had no laws regulating adult entertainment.

Prosecuting Attorney Bill Hawkins said the city’s hands are tied.

“You can regulate nude dancing; you can’t ban it,” he said, adding that the proposed laws before the council were focused on “mitigating adverse affects and impacts” to the community.

Hawkins pointed to five three-ring binders, each filled with research on the topics of exotic dance regulation, nude expression and zoning reculations for strip clubs.

The final issue to go before the council dealt with the zoning of adult businesses.

Just because these locations are zoned for this type of business doesn’t mean there are spaces immediately available for rent, Hawkins said.

Council member Rick Almberg pushed for a greater buffer around residential neighborhoods as did Bob Severns and Dudley. Councilman Danny Paggao suggested the buffers around schools should be even greater than the proposed 750-feet.

The Highway 20 locations didn’t sit well with Jill Johnson, the executive director of the Oak Harbor Chamber of Commerce, who said the city’s ability to win grant funds for its designated scenic byway could be compromised if a strip joint pops up on the thoroughfare.

“Although I love our Dutch heritage, I would be devastated for us to become the Amsterdam of Whidbey Island,” she said.

City Attorney Margery Hite assured the council members that their decisions made Tuesday are “a temporary thing.”

Over the next six months, City Council members and city staff will revise the emergency ordinance.

There will be a public hearing on the issue Tuesday, May 4, 6 p.m. at the Oak Harbor City Hall, 865 SE Barrington Dr.

Adult Entertainment Facilities Overlay Zone.pdf

Adult Entertainment Facilities Overlay Zone

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