A federal judge has upheld the rights of Berlin, CT residents to protect themselves from the secondary effects of a topless bar near homes. Today’s Hartford Courant tells the story…
BERLIN — In a key decision that upholds the town’s sexually oriented business ordinance, a federal judge has rejected a lawsuit from Gold Diggers LLC, the firm that wanted to bring exotic dancing back to the Infrared Café on New Britain Road.
The lawsuit charged, in part, that the town ordinance violates the Constitution and restricts a stripper’s freedom of expression.
Berlin officials were anticipating the ruling for months. They now believe it could benefit the town in lawsuits filed in November over its rejection of the sex-themed store Very Intimate Pleasures, which wants to open on the Berlin Turnpike next to a residential neighborhood…
Silver filed the Gold Diggers lawsuit last May after the town denied Wayne David Massa a permit to run a topless bar at Infrared Café. The establishment had operated as a sexually oriented business for at least nine years before its permit lapsed in January 2006. Massa, an East Hartford businessman, wanted to change the name to Emerald City and apply for a new license.
But then-Town Manager Herman Middlebrooks Jr. denied the request in March, saying that it would violate a local law regulating adult businesses. Infrared, located next to a Dunkin’ Donuts and across from Portofino’s Restaurant, is within 250 feet of residentially zoned land. Neighbors had often complained about loud noise and boorish behavior that spilled outside the club.
In his decision, senior U.S. District Judge Warren Eginton dismissed Silver’s argument that the town council had no authority to create an ordinance restricting the location of a business.
Although the planning and zoning board usually has authority over such matters, Eginton interpreted state law as allowing municipalities to “regulate and prohibit the carrying on of any business with adverse impacts to public health…”
Eginton ruled that the ban “is clearly directed at preventing prostitution and the spread of communicable diseases, which represents a substantial interest to the town,” and not at “accidental or other ‘innocent’ contact, such as a handshake.”