3 is Enough!

August 15, 2005
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If a handful of concerned citizens have their way, Grand Rapids’ casino obstructionist group 23 is Enough! might have some company.

Dar VanderArk, executive director of the Michigan Decency Action Council, has apparently offered to raise up to $250,000 to set up a legal defense fund to battle Sensations Showgirls proprietor and former treasurer of the Kent County Republican Committee Mark London’seffort to open a fully-nude adult entertainment complex at the former Sennett Steel building at 234 Market Ave. SW.

He thinks the city isn’t doing enough to regulate — (read: stop) — the development. Joining him is activist Judy Rose of Black Hills Citizens for a Better Community.

Last week, the city commission passed a resolution condemning the practice of live nude dancing in the city, claiming it leads to blight, crime and other social problems.

But that’s all the fight you’re going to see out of the city.

According to new GR Mayor George Heartwell, trying to regulate the use would likely result in a lawsuit that the city can’t win, and the city isn’t willing to spend any more resources to fight a losing battle.

See, before the city rewrote the zoning code pertaining to adult-oriented activity in 2003, it allowed adult-oriented activity in C-2 commercial zones 500 feet away from residential property.

When the Velvet Touch Adult Bookstore on 28th Street SE moved into an area closer than 500 feet to residential property, the zoning board granted a variance. The decision was overturned, however, and the ensuing court battle cost the city $275,000 — $150,000 for the city’s legal representation and $125,000 to pay the attorney fees for Velvet Touch.

“It turned out that our old code was unconstitutional,” explained city planner Bill Hoyt. “When we mapped it out, we were able to identify only about two or three locations that a business like that could locate. The court said that wasn’t sufficient.”

Now, adult use is permitted only in C-4 commercial zones and I-1 and I-2 industrial zones.

This still toes a constitutional line. The sale of alcohol is not permitted in an industrial zone, which caused London’s request for a liquor license to be denied last year.

However, the former state representative candidate decided to make nice, much like he did when old GRMAYOR John Logie (who now has new vanity plates on his vehicle indicating he is the former mayor) pushed through an emergency ordinance to block his attempt to open a topless bar at 99 Monroe Center NW in the early 1990s.

Instead of engaging in a fierce legal battle that would have been as entertaining as the Wayland casino fight, London opted to make his club totally nude.

“We can’t stop him,” Heartwell said. “But as a commission, we decided to make a moral statement. I am not ready to spend city resources on a lawsuit.”

Since the city isn’t putting its dukes up, Rose and VanderArk would have to go the 23 is Enough! route: sic lawyers on him until he gets frustrated enough to go away.

And let’s hope they do, because look at the blight strip clubs have already caused Grand Rapids. The opening of Sensations was surely behind Eastbrook Mall’s fall from glory. It probably ran Rogers Department Store, North Kent Mall, and two 44th Street malls into the dirt, too.

The Red Barn Adult Theatre at 928 28th St. SE retooled itself as a full nude juice bar in 2002. Three years later, Steelcase Inc. announced it will shutter its 32nd Street plant a mile due south.

And the Westside neighborhood surrounding 814 Lake Michigan Drive NW — home to the Parkway Tropics for longer than the period of time that 82 percent of Grand Rapids residents have been alive (if you’ve got another Grand Rapids restaurant or bar that has been in the same spot since 1954, let us know) — is a venerable wasteland, provided you keep your eyes closed so as not to notice the GVSU campus or new YMCA.

Exactly what damage London could do from the isolated Sennett Building is uncertain. If it’s enough of a draw to bother anyone in the Black Hills neighborhood, close to a mile south, we’re likely to see The Right Place launch an adult entertainment council.

  • During the commission meeting, DDA member Thomas Wesholski asked if London would be serving iced tea. Heartwell said that and carrot juice, so his customers could see better.

Earlier in the week, 1st Ward commissioner Jim Jendrasiak said he hoped the nearby

city workers would scrutinize the strip club to make sure it is not violating other local codes or state laws governing the activity that occurs inside.

If you listen carefully, you can hear a collective snicker from city workers.

  • Super-sized Subway downsizes GFS. With over 23,000 sandwich shops in 82 countries, Subway is the largest restaurant chain in the world. Suffice it to say, they go through a lot of lettuce, tomatoes and cheese.

Who supplies them with those and other staples? Grand Rapids-based Gordon Food Service, among others.

How much does GFS rely on Subway’s business? When it recently lost the contract for a regional distributorship servicing Subways on the East Coast, the food wholesaler was forced to close three warehouses.

  • The Grand Valley Chapter of the American Institute of Architects raised $5,000 for Habitat for Humanity from its annual golf outing this summer.

“Part of the mission of the AIA is to improve the quality of the built environment. By aiding organizations like Habitat, we help accomplish this by providing volunteer assistance in the form of design expertise and construction services, as well as fundraising,” said MarkLevine, president of AIAGV.

Seventy-six architects, contractors, industry consultants and vendors took part in the event held at The Golf Club at Thornapple Pointe. The Kent, Lakeshore and Muskegon Habitat chapters will share the proceeds.    

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