|A tawdry affair
By STEVE SEBELIUS
There's plenty of blame to go around for the mess that was the Las Vegas City Council vote Monday to grant the Crazy Horse Too topless club a variance to add 6,000 square feet to its Industrial Road location. (Actually, the addition has already been built; the dispute at the City Council meeting was whether a variance would be granted.)
First, there's the city staff, who allegedly told owners of the Crazy Horse Too back in December 1997 that they didn't need a variance for the addition. In December 1998, the staff came up with a different interpretation, saying since the club was within 1,000 feet of two other adult businesses, it was a "non-conforming use," and thus needed a variance to expand. That was their story, and they were sticking to it Monday.
But Crazy Horse Too attorney Dean Patti cried foul, saying his clients had built the addition relying on the city's advice, and if the city changes the rules at the 11th hour, the nightclub could likely win a lawsuit. (Patti contends that a 1993 city memo specifically says the Crazy Horse Too does conform with city codes, and thus doesn't need variances to expand.)
Second, as attorney Chuck Gardner--representing residents who live near the club--noted in his oft-interrupted presentation: the law appears to be against an expansion. City codes prohibit the expansion of a sexually oriented business within 1,000 feet of any other such business, and the property used by the Crazy Horse Too at 2476 Industrial isn't unique or exceptional enough to qualify for a variance, Gardner says.
(Patti notes that when the Crazy Horse Too started operations in 1984, it was the only topless club in the area; other businesses moved in later, and when the city changed the way it measures how far each business is from the others, all three adult outfits automatically became too close to each other.) But, Patti says, it's his view that the Crazy Horse Too isn't a "non-conforming use" at all, and thus, the standards Gardner cited don't apply.
Still, since the city planning department's view is that the Crazy Horse Too is a "non-conforming use," Gardner's arguments should hold weight, at least from the city's perspective.
Third, the mess was exacerbated by the City Council itself. First, Councilman Michael McDonald lectured the media for focusing on his friendship with Crazy Horse Too owner Rick Rizzolo, and creating a conflict where he says none exists. But McDonald's friendship with Rizzolo, and his hardline stance against other adult clubs that he says have run afoul of the law, is a real, self-created problem, not a media illusion. The L.A. Hot adult bookstore, in fact, was one business McDonald criticized before it closed after operating without a license. It was the old L.A. Hot building that was demolished to make way for the Crazy Horse Too's expansion. (Ironically, Patti says the Crazy Horse Too deserves credit for improving the neighborhood by closing the bookstore.)
McDonald rightly abstained from Monday's vote, telling the public that his attorney on an unrelated matter, Anthony Sgro, is Patti's law partner.
Fourth, with the exception of Councilman Arnie Adamsen, the council seemed to be advocates for Crazy Horse Too instead of impartial decision makers. Councilman Larry Brown, a Harvard graduate, repeatedly interrupted Gardner, claiming he didn't understand Gardner's relatively straightforward legal arguments.
Mayor Jan Jones quickly pointed out that Gardner's client, Andrea Banks, who owns property near the Crazy Horse Too neighborhood, had to be threatened by the city before she tore down some crime-ravenged apartments she owned in the area. But Jones also had Neighborhood Services Director Sharon Segerblom bring out a color fever chart ostensibly showing a drop in crime since Banks' buildings were demolished. (The fact that this document was readily available can only mean the city decided in advance to attack Banks' credibility with an irrelevant aside.)
Jones and Patti noted that there was no opposition whatsoever to the variance when the city Board of Zoning Adjustment took up the matter at a Jan. 5 hearing. The 11th-hour protests were obviously political, they say. (Jones held up a copy of the Las Vegas Tribune newspaper, in which Steve Miller, who is running against her for mayor, penned an article critical of the Crazy Horse Too.) But even if that's true, the council ought to at least give the pretense of impartiality.
In the end, council members voted 4-0 (with
McDonald abstaining) to grant the variance. That may have been the right
thing to do, given the complex, confusing nature of the case. But the way
in which it was done was more tawdry than