Fla. Strip Bar Lawsuit Going to Mediation

Tod Hunter
DESTIN, Fla. — The ongoing dispute between the city of Destin and the Oasis pool hall about nude dancing is going to arbitration by court order.

Terry Stephenson, who leases the Oasis, filed suit in federal court last November after Destin turned down his request for a business license to provide nude dancing. Destin City Manager Greg Kisela told reporters that the court has ordered the two sides into mediation, which is expected in late June.

Nude and topless dancing were completely banned in Destin and adult entertainment was restricted to the city's industrial zoned areas. Facing fears of constitutional challenges, the city passed a new ordinance in January regulating strip clubs and other "sexually oriented businesses" such as adult video stores, adult bookstores and "sexual device shops."

The ordinance requires the owner and staff of sexually oriented businesses to take out city licenses; prohibits nudity; allows semi-nudity if performers are at least six feet from the customers; bans alcohol from the premises; and limits the hours from 10 a.m. to 1 a.m.

In February, Stephenson's attorney, Greg Edinger, filed an injunction against the new ordinance, charging that it violated the 1st Amendment and that the city's legal advertising for the hearings didn't follow Florida law. Although the city disagreed, it repeated the ordinance approval process with new legal ads and revised definitions.

Even without the ordinance, the Oasis is not legally zoned to offer nude dancing, and Stephenson's lawsuit challenges that position too.

In court filings, the Oasis' attorneys admitted the club already has occasional nude dancing, which could lead to a citation if the dancers were caught in the act.

Code Enforcement Director David Bazylak said that officers and sheriff's deputies have been visiting the Oasis several times a week but "the times Code Enforcement has been in there, we have not seen them doing that."

Kisela said that even though the city has to meet with Stephenson and his attorneys, it won't change its position. "We'll listen [but] we're still committed to the regulatory ordinance. We're not deviating from that at all."

Edinger said Stephenson's position that the denial of a business license unfairly infringes on his rights has not changed either, but "I'm always optimistic going into mediation. I've settled most of these cases."