|By G. Michael Dobbs|
The worst thing about a weekly publishing schedule is there are stories you want to cover as they unfold, but can't. While this newspaper was being printed Chicopee's Board of Aldermen met to vote on whether or not to allow two special permits that would allow the return of a strip club to the former site of the Gold Club.
Now I'm not Kreskin, but I do have a feeling that these applications were approved at last night's meeting because the city has no legal recourse.
I attended the Feb. 28 meeting of the Aldermanic Zoning Subcommittee where the two applications were first considered. The attorney for the city answered several questions from Board members about exactly what they had to consider here.
They couldn't judge the applications on the morality of strip clubs or what a club of this nature would do to the city's reputation two subjects that were mentioned during the course of the discussion.
They could only judge their decisions on whether or not the property of Shawnigan Drive met the zoning requirements established for an adult entertainment business.
If the Aldermen denied the request on any basis other than the property location itself, the city would then have been liable for another lawsuit about adult entertainment. The city lost a prolonged lawsuit involving the first owners of the Gold Club with the decision stating that adult entertainment could not be blocked from the city if the business is properly zoned.
Kate Brown of the city's Planning Department prepared a report that measured the distance from the boundaries of the property to the nearest schools, homes, and churches. The would-be strip club met all of the zoning requirements to protect abutters.
All of the taxes and utility bills are current and since the Board of Aldermen approved similar special permits in the past for a strip club, it would appear there are few legal options for opponents at that level of the approval process.
All of the impassioned speeches I heard on Feb. 28 concerning the effect of such an establishment on the city had no bearing on what the Aldermen had to decide.
Placing a strip club, though, is more than just meeting zoning requirements. Alderman Ronald Belair, who spent years on the city's License Commission, reminded the Zoning Subcommittee on Feb. 28 that Richard Harty, the applicant, has had problems in the management of bars he owned in the city, most notably the former Annie's in the Birch and Bend section of the city.
Harty currently owns the Cabot Street Pub in Chicopee and Geraldine's in West Springfield.
For this club to become reality, though, a transfer of the Cabot Street Pub's license must be approved by the city's License Commission and then by the Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission (ABCC) in Boston. Both regulating bodies will research Hardy's record as a club owner and judge whether or not the license should be moved to the new business.
At the time the ABCC made its decision to rescind the liquor license from the original owners of the Gold Club, one of its lawyers told me that any future applicants would be carefully investigated to make sure there are no ties between them and the original applicants.
Edward Sabella, Harty's attorney, said that if the transfer goes through, Hardy intends on buying the building and changing the name of the club.
The club is still quite a distance away from becoming reality, but if it does eventually open, the city will have a number of ways to judge whether or not it should stay open.
The most difficult thing to swallow in matters of free expression is understanding that your neighbor has the right to say or do something that goes against your beliefs. If this club opens and you don't like it, stay away from it and urge those who know to do the same. Chicopee will survive.
These are my opinions alone. You can send your reactions to firstname.lastname@example.org or to 280 N. Main St., East Longmeadow, MA 01028.