There likely wouldn’t be Classical music playing in the background, and the “visual artists” dancing nude would likely not have been trained at the Juilliard School, but nonetheless, the proponents of a strip club on Beacham Street appealed to high art Tuesday night at the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) – saying their nude dancing is a form of visual art and their club should be allowed as an artistic venue.
“The U.S. Supreme Court and the Supreme Judicial Court have decided this is defined as an artistic use,” said Attorney Kendra Kinscherf of Davis, Malm and D’agostine in Boston. “It is an art use because it is for artistic dancing by artists. That is by the Supreme Court and the SJC and that’s what’s happening here. Whether or not you agree, it has been decided. This is an art use and is being displayed at a facility so it falls under the definition of an art use…This is the creation of visual art for the purpose of display by artists.”
Kinscherf, representing Phantom Ventures proponents Konstantinos Georgeopoulos, Louis Tasiopoulos and Gregory Costa of Middleton, stressed that an art use is allowed in the Industrial Zone where the facility is sited – the old King Arthur’s strip club site.
ZBA members were thrown for a bit of a loop in the argument, and the large number of audience members in attendance couldn’t help but chuckle, but in the end the ZBA took the serious approach of reviewing the “art use” ordinance and didn’t believe it met muster. Specifically, the ordinance for art use is more geared towards the creation of artist live/work space where types of art are created, and they didn’t believe nude dancing fell into that category.
The more pertinent argument, however, was concerning the zoning code and what it says and what is doesn’t say.
Phantom Ventures was officially in attendance at Tuesday’s meeting in an appeal before the Board. As a matter of procedure, Building Inspector Joe Cooney had denied the company a building permit to renovate the facility – which is described as being an upscale “cabaret” nude dancing and sports bar. The basis of that denial was that the use was no longer allowed, with the City saying that any grandfathering rights to a strip club on the site were eradicated when King Arthur’s was stripped of its licenses in May 2014.
One of the points of contention is that the Chelsea Adult Entertainment ordinance does not speak to nude dancing – an oversight from the distant past – but does speak to movie theaters and book stores.
“Our adult entertainment zoning does define adult entertainment as a movie theatre and a book store, but it does state that if a use isn’t mentioned, you have to find something similar,” said Cooney. “We believe the movie theatre and book stores are similar.”
He also said that the zoning does prohibit grandfathering the use of nude dancing.
Phantom Ventures believes the next closest use to choose would be the art use, as nude dancing in their opinion is a form of art and preventing it would abridge their Constitutional rights.
City Solicitor Cheryl Watson Fisher said Chelsea offers nude dancing establishments in two specific zones, the shopping center district and the highway business district, and by offering the use at those two districts, Constitutional rights are protected.
“You have a Constitutional right to nude dancing and as long as nude dancing is allowed somewhere, we are not abridging anyone’s rights by not allowing it in Chelsea’s Industrial District,” she said.
ZBA members debated the issue briefly, and voted 3-0 to uphold the denial of a building permit – essentially giving a victory for now to the many neighbors who had shown up to oppose the club.
Phantom Ventures indicated it did not agree with the decision.
“While we disagree with Tuesday’s decision, we respect the job the Zoning Board has to do in these matters,” read a statement issued by the company. “This is a legal process in which the petitioner has certain rights – including those protected by the United States Constitution and Massachusetts Declaration of Rights. We intend to pursue all available remedies and look forward to continuing a dialogue with the City of Chelsea.”
Neighbors spoke vigorously against the matter, not buying into any of the arguments put forth and hoping that, eventually, a judge will agree with the City’s position.
“It’s a blight; King Arthur’s was a blight for all those years with the prostitution, the drugs, the stabbings and the shooting in 1982,” said Marie Iacano of Beacon Street. “I don’t consider that visual arts. I don’t care what anyone says, I have the Constitutional right to my opinion on that…Go to the Town of Middleton where these three gentlemen list their business address. The people in Middleton I know wouldn’t be happy with this petition in front of their town government.”
School Supt. Mary Bourque spoke as the leader of the school and as a resident of Chelsea. She said there is nothing gentlemanly about the club.
“I don’t want us to be fooled about the description of this as a Gentlemen’s Club,” she said. “It makes it sound reputable and it’s not. I deal all day long with young women who have so many obstacles in their lives. How can I talk about bettering themselves with education and college readiness and yet there is a whole population of females allowed to be dancing nude in this area? Where do we have the courage to stand up?”
Councillor Dan Cortell, who represents the area, said he doesn’t support the proposal at all and that it would do nothing good for anyone in Chelsea.
“They want to open a strip club at the absolute location they want it,” he said. “They can make the same argument in any city or town in the state. They can do it in Everett and be closer to the people they want to serve – and I believe that would be the casino…Over 15 plus years, the City Manager, Council, Planning Department and Economic Development, Planning and Zoning Board’s have worked toward a shared vision for a better Chelsea. We were deliberative, ambitious and patient. One of the rewards I believe this city and its resident’s have earned is to have a say in what we do and don’t want here. We don’t want this and will continue to fight as long as Phantom Ventures won’t take ‘no’ for an answer.”
Afterward, he indicated he was pleased with the turnout from neighbors and the decision of the ZBA.
Councillor Calvin Brown said similar comments.
“No one wants this,” he said. “This is a small entity, but i has a very negative appeal and a very negative appearance to our community…For us to be here tonight considering bringing it back is a disgrace to the former city manager, the city council and the current city manager.”
In other ZBA news:
- David Harrison and William Rogers were given a special permit to create a parking lot at 185-189 Bellingham St.
- A proposal by Edith Antzak to replace the Crest Printing plant on Eastern Avenue and Hooper Street with a much quieter office use was heard by the ZBA and gained favor with neighbors.
“I think this is an awesome opportunity,” said a neighbor from Hooper Street. “This would be a lot quieter than Crest Printing. It’s much better for the neighborhood than Crest Printing was.”
The matter is seeking a special permit for parking, as they need nine space and have only seven.
- A proposal by Moises Amaya for a special permit to convert an appliance repair shop into a laundromat and convenience store was also heard. The plan would be to take the building at 12 Essex St. – behind the Pollo Campero – and convert it into the dual use.