Is Stadium Club Strip Club a “Sexually Oriented Business Establishment?”
High-end strip club Stadium Club could lose its ability to operate under the zoning rules for its location, after the D.C. Court of Appeals vacated the club's status as a non-"Sexually Oriented Business Establishment" and sent it back to the Board of Zoning Adjustment to reevaluate.
A sexually oriented business wouldn't be permitted in the commercial zone where the club is located, on Queens Chapel Road NE, and neighborhood activists have claimed for years that the strip club shouldn't be allowed, either.
The ruling on Thursday by the three-judge appeals panel is the latest setback for the purported high-end "gentleman's club," which has been the backdrop for allegations of sexual extortion of a dancer; a lawsuit against a former Baltimore Ravens football player and a D.C. police officer for allegedly beating up a pair of security guards; a parking lot stabbing; and a million-dollar case of fraud involving misuse of government funds.
In remanding the case, the panel chastised the BZA for ignoring the club's actual operations, failing to conduct sufficient fact-finding, and deferring to the "opinion" of Zoning Administrator Matthew LeGrant, who granted non-SOBE certificates of occupancy in 2010 and 2011, despite explicit testimony of investigators posing as patrons of the club.
Club owners James "Tru" Redding and Keith Forney could not be reached for comment.
The controversy over Stadium Club began in 2010, when Ward 5 resident Don Padou urged officials at the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, which oversees the zoning administrator, to deem Stadium Club a sexually oriented business. When the Ward 5 Improvement Association, led by Padou, appealed the issuance of a non-SOBE certificate of occupancy, DCRA backed the zoning administrator and said “a nightclub that offers nude dancing entertainment is not a sexually-oriented business establishment.”
In 2011, after Stadium Club sought to create an outdoor seating area, the zoning administrator issued, and the BZA upheld, a second non-SOBE certificate of occupancy, according to Thursday's ruling.
However, sworn affidavits by the investigators made available to the zoning administrator before the second certificate of occupancy was granted described club dancers bending over to expose their private parts, rubbing their breasts and whispering in an investigator's ear, fondling their breasts while grinding on the investigator's lap, and letting him touch their legs, back, and buttocks, the ruling states.
"We conclude that the BZA, in assessing whether the [zoning administrator] properly granted the certificates of occupancy, erred in relying almost exclusively on information available to the [zoning administrator] at the time he granted the first permanent certificate of occupancy on June 22, 2010," the panel wrote. "The BZA should have fully considered, as well, information available to the [zoning administrator] at the time he granted the second certificate of occupancy."
In remanding the case, and after a lengthy discourse citing passages from Webster's Unabridged Dictionary, the panel instructed the BZA to "consider whether the kind of dancing featured at Stadium Club involves 'fondling,' 'erotic touching,' or acts of 'sexual stimulation or arousal.'"
The Stadium Club has a rich history as a source of controversy.
In January 2011, the Washington Times reported that Stadium Club was operating with a liquor license reserved for its location at 2127 Queens Chapel Road NE, which according to city records was owned by convicted drug kingpin Cornell Jones, who had received federal funds from the D.C. HIV/AIDS Administration to renovate the site for use as an ex-offender job training center. Instead, Jones sold the property to Forney and Redding in 2010 for $2.7 million, property records showed.
The city later sued Jones and his nonprofit group, Miracle Hands, for misuse of public funds, and recently was awarded a judgment that tripled previously awarded damages for a total of more than $1 million.
In 2013, a former Stadium Club dancer who had been fired sued the club for violations of fair wage laws, and in the lawsuit alleged that a manager told her she'd never get her job back unless she performed sexual favors.
Also in 2013, the club was closed for 72 hours after reports that a number of patrons were stabbed in the parking lot following an altercation inside the club. The club also closed briefly last year after the District seized it during a dispute with Redding over unpaid taxes at his H Street NE restaurant TruOrleans.
In a written statement, Padou, a lawyer who represents the Ward 5 association, declared the appeals panel's decision "a major victory for Ward 5."
Padou also urged the BZA to follow the instructions of the Court of Appeals, which, he said, "made it clear that the BZA should find that the Stadium Club is a SOBE. Once the Stadium Club is designated as a SOBE, it can no longer legally operate in a [commercial zone] such as Queens Chapel Road."
Read the full ruling below:
Photo by Darrow Montgomery