By Amanda Lee Myers
CINCINNATI: The southeastern Ohio city of Athens on Monday won a six-year fight to prevent a strip club from opening in the liberal college town for the first time after the city’s insurance company agreed to pay $425,000 to the men who wanted to open it.
City attorney Chuck Curley released terms of the settlement shortly after they were reached Monday, the same day a jury trial in the matter was set to begin in Columbus.
Curley said that the city’s insurance company will pay $425,000 to Christopher Stotts, the businessman man who wanted to open the city’s first strip club along a main drag just north of the Ohio University campus in Athens, and his landlord, Demetrios Prokos.
In exchange, Curley said Stotts agreed to withdraw his application to open the strip club and dismiss the federal civil rights lawsuit he filed in 2011 after four years of fighting with the city over the matter.
“The city is pleased that there will not be an ‘adult entertainment business’ on Stimson Avenue,” Pat Lang, the city’s law director, said in a statement through Curley, who declined to comment further.
Stotts’ Cincinnati attorney, Louis Sirkin, did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment Monday, although Curley said the parties agreed not to comment to members of the media.
Sirkin had told The Associated Press last month that he was confident he would win the civil-rights lawsuit against the city.
“We don’t legislate morality, and the First Amendment needs to be protected,” Sirkin said at the time, adding that the city’s refusal to allow the club to open was violating his clients’ constitutional rights to freedom of speech.
The fight between the two parties began almost the day Stotts first applied for a permit to open the strip club on Dec. 17, 2007.
The city’s zoning board denied him three separate times after lengthy meetings and a wave of negative reactions from dozens of area residents.
“To bring such a club like this to our community will take away what we have been known for, as one of the best-known small towns in the United States — the sense of community and camaraderie that we have here,” Francine Childs, an area resident, told the zoning board.
Neighbor Bic Weissenrider said a strip club would be “totally out of character” with the neighborhood and that: “I could flat promise you that having that across the street from us will cause detriment to our values.”
Zoning members themselves expressed concerns about immorality and crime and how the strip club would affect nearby businesses, including a newly opened bank, and the neighborhood, which includes a nearby elementary school.
Prokos and Stotts appealed the zoning board’s decisions in Athens County Common Pleas Court, and in June 2010, a judge threw out the board’s denial of a permit for the strip club.
Ohio’s 4th District upheld that decision in May 2011, finding that board members are not allowed to consider a business’ morality, just whether it is a permitted use under zoning laws.
Follow Amanda Lee Myers on Twitter at https://twitter.com/AmandaLeeAP