WILLISTON, N.D. – City commissioners approved three ordinances Tuesday night that would rid Williston’s downtown of its two strip clubs and restrict exotic dancing to industrial zones.
The ordinances unanimously adopted Tuesday also would prevent a strip club from selling alcohol and require owners to obtain a cabaret license.
City officials cited the more than 200 police calls to neighboring strip clubs Heartbreakers and Whispers between mid-2013 and June 2015. The calls included two homicides, 42 fights and assaults, 36 unruly patrons and numerous reports of minors being served alcohol.
Williston Police Lt. Detective David Peterson said the department spends a disproportionate amount of its resources patrolling that block of Main Street and investigating incidents connected to the clubs, often without cooperation from employees.
City commissioner Chris Brostuen noted the strip clubs are adjacent to the train depot, the Salvation Army, a senior citizen center, the armory and the Chamber of Commerce, areas where many families and members of the public frequent.
“We as a city have an obligation to protect our citizens,” Brostuen said. “We have a documented record of violence spilling out in the streets in that area.”
An attorney for Heartbreakers called the police statistics “old news” and questioned how the number of police calls compares to other Williston bars.
“For Detective Peterson to rehash some of these things, I’m not sure that statistically is the way to justify what the commission is going to do,” said attorney Greg Hennessy. “But it’s a usable tool, you’re using it, and we will respond to it as we can.”
In 2011, the Williston City Commission adopted a zoning ordinance that requires adult entertainment businesses to locate in industrial zones. At that time, Whispers and Heartbreakers were grandfathered in and allowed to continue operating downtown, which is a commercial zone.
Under the provision approved Tuesday, exotic dancing would no longer be allowed downtown and the businesses would have one year to relocate to an area zoned heavy industrial on the outskirts of town. The clubs could continue to operate as bars downtown.
Staff from both Heartbreakers and Whispers argued that security measures have improved significantly and the police calls have likely decreased since officials compiled their statistics.
Both clubs said they’ve added ID scanners to prevent minors from entering. Whispers manager John Hinton said the club has cracked down on how many drinks customers are served.
Hennessy asked commissioners to give businesses more than one year to make the transition and allow them to maintain liquor licenses “so we’re not financially crippled when we do this.”
Commissioners had little discussion before voting in favor of the ordinances, which will require a second reading before they can take effect.
Dennis Jensen, director for Youth for Christ in Williston, was the only member of the public who spoke in favor of the ordinances.
“I applaud you for taking this move and bringing good moral fiber to our community and to our families,” Jensen said.
Employees and supporters of the clubs, who filled a standing-room-only commission room, expressed disappointment after the meeting.
“I think the decision was made before anybody got here,” said Williston resident Eddie Parker.
Heartbreakers manager Vanessa Reichel said she thought Mayor Howard Klug treated the club employees and supporters disrespectfully.
“He basically rolled his eyes,” Reichel said.
During the meeting, Hennessy pointed out that adult entertainment is protected by the First Amendment. In a letter to city commissioners, Hennessy said Heartbreakers intends to continue operating as a gentlemen’s club.
“That First Amendment right says that they cannot prohibit the adult entertainment, they just can move it to some place in the city,” Hennessy said. “The adult entertainment part will go on, it’s just a question of how we’re economically crippled in doing it.”