No decision on Meriden strip club
by Dennis Sharkey
County Commissioners have heard the testimony concerning a proposed adult entertainment business but a decision still awaits.
Commissioners will hold a special meeting tentatively scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 23, but a time and location are not known although Chairman Richard Malm said the meeting could be in the evening hours. Commissioners will not meet Feb. 21.
Commissioners conducted their first public hearing concerning the proposed business near Meriden along K-4 Highway. The afternoon hearing drew a much smaller crowd than hearings conducted by the Planning and Zoning Commission.
Nevertheless dozens of county residents packed the district court room for the hearing including a couple of Topeka television stations.
Not as much testimony was given at the hearing as in previous meetings where Planning and Zoning Commissioners listened to hours of testimony from those opposed.
Kent Duncan, a leading voice in opposition to the club, reiterated issues that many residents have with the club including falling property values and increased crime. Duncan also said the club would cause traffic problems.
“This is not a convenience store or a small scale restaurant,” Duncan said.
Duncan’s main reason was what he called overwhelming opposition to the club.
“As a resident of this county for more than two decades I ask you not to let the threat of legal action keep you from standing for the clear will of the overwhelming majority of Jefferson County residents,” he said in response to promises of legal action by club operator Zach Snyder and his attorneys.
Snyder’s lead attorney John Bullock addressed many of the accusations by those opposed and the behavior of the Planning and Zoning Commission.
“Numerous members of the audience took it upon themselves to boo, laugh at and taunt the speakers who spoke in favor of the application,” Bullock said. “The Planning Commission made only token efforts to suppress this misconduct.”
Bullock even narrowed his criticism to Planning and Zoning Chairman Tim Bailey. He noted that Bailey cracked jokes at the applicants expense and allowed residents to shout out statements and yell while people testified in favor of the club.
“We are informed that this utter lack of professionalism and decorum discouraged people who favored the development and even those who were neutral to it from speaking,” Bullock said.
Bullock also addressed a concern that was raised by Malm at a commission meeting two weeks ago when he questioned Planning and Zoning Director Eloise Tichenor as to why this particular issue was not addressed two years ago when the county revised its comprehensive plan that included updating the zoning regulations.
“If there was any concern that this location is not appropriate for a sexually oriented business the time to address that was two years ago,” Bullock said.
Bullock also addressed the assertion that an overwhelming majority is against the proposed club. Bullock said about 1,300 Jefferson County residents are members of Snyder’s Douglas County club the Paradise Saloon. Bullock said commissioners represent 18,000 people, not 700.
“The vocal minority likes to say they represent this community. However they don’t represent this community. You do,” Bullock said to the commissioners.
Bullock said in regards to parking and traffic concerns that the Kansas Department of Transportation has already signed off on the plan. He said any traffic concerns need to be addressed by KDOT and that any community that is pro-growth must deal with the consequences of that growth. Bullock said the county claims to be pro-growth from the language of the comprehensive plan.
Bullock also said no property values have fallen and crime rates have not risen in Douglas County. He said there are not fights or drug dealing going on in the parking lot. He said those opposed cannot present any evidence that says the club will cause negative impacts.
Bullock said adults who want to drink alcohol and look at adult material will do so anyway. He said if residents are worried about these types of people, then they would agree with him and would rather see them in a controlled environment like the club.
“I’d rather have them in the club because they will be watched by security guards,” he said.
Bullock also addressed a lot of views that have been expressed concerning religion. One resident’s testimony on Monday consisted of reading Bible scriptures for more than 10 minutes. Bullock also addressed a specific comment about building a Christian community. He said religious views are inappropriate in deciding planning and zoning issues. He said members of other religions could be supportive or against the club.
“Who says all Christians are opposed to this type of business?” Bullock questioned. “I don’t think the Christians have cornered any market on the issue of morality.”
The mother of a Planning and Zoning Department employee who was fired after a phone call at her home with Snyder, Donna Shimmin, testified in favor of the club. Pat Shimmin said that Snyder has expressed regrets to her daughter about the situation and has offered assistance.
“He has tried to help in ways that I appreciate,” she said. “He’s a nice young man.”
Shimmin said she lives in Lakeside Village where there is a bar nearby that she does not want to patronize. She said that doesn’t compel her to seek the bar’s closure. Shimmin said parents should be more worried about what they see on television and the Internet.
“If you don’t want to go to this establishment, then don’t go,” she said. “These young people will not see anything. I just think this thing has been blown way out of proportion.”
Commissioner Lynn Luck asked Snyder about the membership background check and how that applies to member’s guests who do not have to go through a background check.
Snyder said the checks are done by a private company and that members are responsible for the guest.
Bullock also addressed the issue of throwing unruly patrons out of the club and into the community. He said arrangements are made with a cab or other means to remove the patron. Otherwise the police are called.
Luck also asked Snyder if he conducted any market studies and how he determined the location.
Snyder said he used GPS maps provided by the county and observed traffic and took car counts.
Bullock also addressed the issue with the city of Meriden’s sewer lift station and the club’s ability to hook onto the sewer system.
Commissioner Roy Dunnaway pointed out that city ordinance requires a property be annexed in order to hook onto the sewer system.
Bullock said four or five other businesses outside the city have agreements and the club would do the same. He also said Meriden City Attorney Lee Hendricks told him that the city does not have a legal right to have the lift station and that arrangements are being made for the city to possibly purchase the property.
Snyder also addressed ownership questions. He said he has a contract for lease which is essentially a financing mechanism for him to purchase the building from the owner Holly Spiess.
Malm raised an issue with documents containing different wording when identifying the limited liability company that Snyder owns. Snyder said the legal description is Highway Four Properties, but Malm said some documents have Highway 4 Properties.
Snyder and Bullock both said they were not trying to fool anyone and that all paperwork could be amended.
Malm wouldn’t let the issue go and asked Snyder why he didn’t correct the error earlier. Snyder responded by saying it was a mistake.
After continued questioning about the subject, Bullock took exception to county counselor Mike Hayes continued whispering in Malm’s ear after each time he or Snyder would answer.
Bullock said this hearing is a open meeting and needs to be conducted in such a matter and if the county needs to meet with Hayes, then they need to adjourn to closed session.
Bullock also asserted that he believed the Planning and Zoning Commission conducted deliberations about their motion for denial in secret. Bullock said more than two hours were spent in closed session where an eight-page motion emerged. Bullock said he did not believe the motion was written by the commission.
“If we hadn’t asked for nude dancing I think we would already be open as a bar and restaurant,” Bullock said with slight frustration.
Bullock asked for a quick decision. He said Snyder has spent more than $290,000 on the club.
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