For over a year now, a group calling itself the Ward 5 Improvement Association has been fighting the steak-and-strippers Stadium Club’s certificate of occupancy, saying that the establishment on Queens Chapel Road NE is operating as a “Sexually Oriented Business Enterprise” without proper permission. Not only is it a strip club, the citizens have argued, it’s the beginnings of a “red light district” that could pollute the semi-industrial corners of Ward 5 with crime and moral filth.
Finally, the Board of Zoning Adjustment came out with its verdict: Stadium Club isn’t sexually oriented at all, for the purposes of the statute, and may go about its business unmolested.
But the ruling didn’t come without more discussion of what makes something sexual or not. The five-person board’s chair, Meridith Moldenhauer, was the lone vote in favor of the Ward 5 Improvement Association’s position, and she debated from the dais with BZA newbie Lloyd Jordan about whether entertainment had to be intentionally arousing to its audience in order to qualify as a SOBE, or if it could merely be incidental.
“In my view, [the investigator’s] description of what occurred definitely is circumstances in which the positions assumed by the women and the manner in which the women displayed themselves demonstrated that was for the purpose of stimulating and arousing patrons,” Moldenhauer started out, somewhat awkwardly.
When Jordan’s turn came, he made the case that the regulations are just too vague to make fine distinctions, and that some of the activities the investigator described are totally innocuous. “Pole dancing is the new fad for physical exercise,” he pointed out.
“They’re not naked when they’re doing that!” Moldenhauer protested.
Jordan countered that the skimpy clothing found in some fitness centers would fall under the definition of clothing worn at a sexually oriented business establishment. And is it even worse than entertainment at football games?
“Our Redskins cheerleaders touch their bodies, and they do it in a sexual way,” he said.
“They’re not naked!” Moldenhauer yelped.
“Some people would consider them naked,” Jordan said. “See, there we go again with the standard of what’s naked, and what’s opaque, and what’s partially covered.”
“These women are 100 percent naked.”
“I don’t remember that there was a percentage in our regulations that talked about how much covering, percentagewise.”
“I’m talking about coverage of the breast and of the buttocks.”
“You see some of the Redskins cheerleaders’ buttocks, too.”
The debate went on. Whether or not you notice just how much skin the Redskins cheerleaders are showing, it’s an entertaining exchange (watch it here). And the ruling is also an important precedent: It’s going to be quite a bit harder from now on to prove that a restaurant with live entertainment is explicitly sexual, and would therefore need a special zoning exception, which can be difficult to get.
Red light district, here we come.