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Better to go with strip clubs than strip mines

Jon Ferraro, president and CEO of Silk Exotic, could be headed to court after Milwaukee failed to consider his 2011 application to open a pair of strip clubs in the city. (File photo by Kevin Harnack)

Jon Ferraro, president and CEO of Silk Exotic, has been trying to open a strip club in downtown Milwaukee since 2010. (File photo by Kevin Harnack)

Never mind sand mines. Never mind cement factories, rendering plants, trash-transfer stations or other possibly obnoxious operations.

A bill before Wisconsin lawmakers could make it harder for local officials to prevent the opening of – gasp – strip clubs! That was the dreaded possibility state Sen. Bob Wirch, D-Kenosha, put before his fellow members of the Senate Committee on Government Operations, Public Works, and Telecommunications on Wednesday during a discussion about Senate Bill 314, which would prevent cities, villages and counties from changing the regulations that would apply to a particular project following the receipt of a permit application for that project.

Just to assure everyone he doesn’t have strip clubs permanently on the brain, Wirch said the bill’s prohibitions made him think of a radio broadcast he had heard while driving to Madison. The news story, he said, was about a strip club owner who was doing battle with local officials somewhere in Illinois.

He need not have looked across state lines, though, for an example. As my colleague, Beth Kevit, reported on Wednesday, a Milwaukee strip club owner has been embroiled with local officials since 2010 over his proposal to open a downtown club named Silk East.

At one point, the owner, Jon Ferraro, applied for a theater license, which would have let him have exotic dancers on his staff but would have prevented him from serving alcohol. Rather than give him an answer, the city stalled. Then, in March 2012, the city repealed its own theater licensing ordinance.

Had Senate Bill 314 been law then, Milwaukee officials could not have pulled the rug out from under Ferraro like that.

A lobbyist who supports the bill told me the change is mainly meant to ensure there is some consistency in the regulations that developers, real estate agents and construction companies must abide by to do business. But, yes, he conceded, it would also benefit strip clubs, which are the most common targets of last-minute rule changes.

He said the change to law wouldn’t be great, explaining that court decisions have pretty well made clear that cities really shouldn’t be changing rules after permit and licensing applications have been submitted. The bill would simply have state statutes spell out what already has been established through case law.

But that didn’t prevent the three Democratic members of the Senate committee government operation from sensing nefarious purpose at work and voting against the bill (which was still passed on a 4-3 vote.) The main reason they cited for their decision was the possibility that the legislation would take away local officials’ control over mines.

But if they really want to drum up some opposition, they should just keep talking about strip clubs.

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