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Courts

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Owners of strip club sue Angola

Lawsuit claims city changed ordinances to block business

Days after a Florida couple’s proposal to build a strip club in Angola was reported in local newspapers, city planning officials changed zoning ordinances which blocked the club’s creation.

Now Alva and Sandra Butler are suing the city of Angola, its building commissioner, Dean Twitchell, and Vivian Likes, the city’s Zoning Administrator and Planner.

Alva Butler owns and operates the Showgirl III in Fort Wayne. He proposed to open a similar club in a shuttered restaurant in Angola.

In their lawsuit, filed last week in U.S. District Court in Fort Wayne, the Butlers claim the changes to the city’s zoning ordinance, as well as the creation of a city ordinance requiring licensing for sexually oriented businesses, were developed and passed for the sole purpose of blocking the proposed development.

And that, argue the Butlers, constitutes a violation of their constitutional rights to free speech.

They are seeking a federal court order that would declare the ordinances unconstitutional and prevent the city from enforcing them, according to court documents.

Before Aug. 19, sexually oriented businesses were permitted inside the city’s “medium to large general commercial districts.” They must locate outside of a 1,000-foot radius of other similar businesses, residential districts and public gathering places, such as schools, parks, playgrounds, libraries and other public structures, according to court documents.

Before September, the city also had no ordinance regulating sexually oriented businesses within its borders, according to court documents.

On Sept. 17, the city council conducted all three readings of a proposed ordinance to regulate and license sexually oriented businesses. No public comment was heard by the council, except a telephone conference with a Tennessee-based attorney who specializes in helping municipalities create such ordinances, according to the minutes of the meeting submitted as evidence in the lawsuit.

Then, in November, the city’s plan commission changed the zoning law to require sexually oriented business to locate in a different zoning area and changed the required cushion around other such businesses and public gathering places from 1,000 feet to 750 feet, according to court documents.

Butler’s attorney contends that other city officials, such as Likes, intentionally delayed the process of permitting the club until the city could get ordinances in place to prevent it from locating there, according to court documents.

On Nov. 26, building commissioner Twitchell sent the Butlers an “intent to deny” notice, saying the proposed strip club would be within 750 feet of multiple residences, according to court documents.

The Butlers appealed his decision to a hearing officer during a Feb. 12 hearing. The hearing officer denied their appeal on Feb. 15, according to court documents.

Along with the injunction prohibiting the enforcement of the ordinances, the Butlers are also seeking punitive damages from Likes, as well as monetary damages from the city for legal costs, remodeling costs and loss of profits.

Messages left with Kim Shoup, Angola’s city attorney, were not returned Tuesday.

rgreen@jg.net

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