October’s city planning and zoning commission meeting could be standing room only.
That’s what happens when a businessman requests a zoning change be made so he can open a strip club inside the building he owns at 325 11th Street SW.
The businessman, Chris Burg, last week shared with the planning and zoning commission that his current business at the property, Southside Grill, isn’t doing so hot and needs a change.
“We’ve been struggling for the last six to nine months with business,” Burg said. “We do have business, but it’s hard to pay bills. I’ve lost over $150,000 this past year. (I) stay up at night trying to think how we can keep the doors open.”
The planning and zoning commission meeting, 8 a.m. on Oct. 10, will include a public hearing on whether a sexually oriented business should be permitted on the property.
Burg is also the owner of Liberty Lanes, Spencer’s bowling alley, and A+ Carpet and Tile Cleaners in Ruthven.
Last week, Burg told the commission he believes there’s money to be made in adult entertainment in Spencer.
“I am very for-Spencer,” Burg said, arguing that the city has often put “chokeholds” on business development.. “However, we do need industries, we need jobs, we need some kind of entertainment.”
He said people in Spencer spend their money on adult entertainment elsewhere.
“I just think it would be good for the town to have some kind of entertainment dollars staying here instead of going up to Okoboji or down to the downtown district in Sioux City,” Burg said. “There’s a lot of bachelor parties, bachelorette parties, birthday parties that go to these places.”
There are people living temporarily in Spencer who would also support the business, he said.
“We have the motels with transient workers, construction workers, who have nothing to do,” Burg said. “They can come down and be entertained for a little while. It’s their choice if they want to partake in the dances.”
Opposition heats up, support grows
There is, of course, opposition to Burg’s idea.
“I will just state for discussion I’ve received half a dozen calls and a couple emails,” Planning and Zoning Commission Member Craig Wampler said at last week’s meeting. “We’ve received several emails and messages into the city that (City Clerk Theresa Reardon) distributed this morning – all in opposition of making any change.”
For his part, though, Burg has said he’s gathered support from people and other businesses in the community.
Burg cited Boji Nites in Arnolds Park and Ossy’s in Carroll as examples of clubs similar to the one he’d like to open in Spencer.
He said Ossy’s hasn’t been a problem in Carroll.
“It is on a frontage road off their main highway,” Burg said. “There’s a family restaurant right next door. There’s a few motels. There’s a Fareway Grocery Store probably two blocks down the street. They really do not have much of a problem there with their gentleman’s club.”
His club, Burg told the commission, would have “higher standards.”
“I would like to run it as a gentleman’s club with a little higher standards, if you can have higher standards in a gentleman’s club,” he said. “I do have a front and back parking lot, so people can come in the back if they do not want to be seen. I would have plenty of security on hand, along with cameras to benefit the buildings next door to us.”
Burg added he wouldn’t have overly provocative signs – although since last week’s meeting he did have a sign put up outside the building that features two clothed pole dancers around the message “Vote YES to developing Business.”
In an interview yesterday, Burg told the Signal he put the sign up to draw attention to the public hearing and because of the opposition.
“A lot of people are slandering me out there,” Burg said. “I’m just trying to draw attention now to the community, but in the future, I won’t have provocative things on my building or on my sign.”
He’s also ordered bumper stickers with designs similar to his sign.
“I went through 200 bumper stickers in one day,” Burg said. “I just got called to pick up my other bumper stickers, 200 of them.”
He said he’s received hundreds of positive comments on Facebook. He hasn’t received nearly as much negative feedback, he said.
Zoning changes needed for strip club to happen
Burg’s idea to pivot from eatery to strip club would require a zoning change of some sort for it to be legal. The property is zoned C2 (highway commercial district).
Spencer code allows for sexually oriented businesses only in D (light industrial), E (heavy industrial) and E-1 (heavy industrial) zoned districts.
There’s also a requirement that sexually oriented businesses must be 500 feet or more from a list of other property types – including other businesses – and the boundary of any zoning district. That rule also presents a hurdle for Burg’s business plan.
He’s asking that some sort of changes be made or variances granted that would allow him to open the strip club on the property.
It appears the options are to:
– Change the property’s zoning district to one that currentl allows sexually oriented businesses.
– Change the current C2 zoning district to allow sexually oriented businesses.
– Create a new zoning district that would allow sexually oriented businesses.
– Do nothing, effectively denying Burg’s request.
Planning and zoning commission member Gayle Davilla last week suggested she’d go with the last option. She even had a motion to recommend no zoning change be made die for lack of a second.
“I appreciate Mr. Burg’s thought that he’s put into this and desire to bring more business into Spencer,” Davilla said. “But I’ve also lived 40 years in a city that had adult entertainments of various types and every time you drive by that business, it catches your attention. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, but you know (it’s there).
“This ordinance that we have now has made ample provision for this type of business and I would have absolutely no problem with your proposal if it was where it was already zoned and appropriate. I understand that you’re trying to improve the business, but I object.”
After Davilla spoke, Burg argued that people may know it’s there, but that doesn’t mean they have to spend money there.
“Just because you know it’s there, doesn’t mean that you have to go there,” he said.
Burg also suggested he may go ahead with his plans even without the commission’s blessing, which could make way for legal issues. He told the commission he has “a couple of investors coming to town to help with it.”
“I was, I guess, trying to get the blessing or change something in town because I do want to do it the right way,” Burg said. “However, I’m tired of losing money in this town.”
Community input sought at Oct. 10 public hearing
After Davilla’s motion went nowhere, commission member Donavon Wunschel motioned to schedule the public hearing to determine whether the strip club should be allowed on the property.
“This is a big issue and it pulls in a lot of other issues,” commission member Donavon Wunschel said. “Now, you have to set aside personal beliefs, you have to set aside different things, but you’ve got freedom issues, you’ve got liberty issues, you’ve got a lot of different stuff that I feel that this has to be a public hearing. I think the public needs to be more aware.”
At last night’s Spencer City Council meeting, City Manager Amanda Mack read a statement that encouraged citizens to participate in the discussion.
“Residents and business owners within the city limits of Spencer will be allowed to submit public comments for or against any changes to the zoning language,” Mack read. “Written comments may be submitted through postal mail or through email to the city clerk’s office. Comments and messages through the City of Spencer’s social media sites will not be considered formal public comments.”
Mack said the matter will only reach the city council if the planning and zoning commission decides to recommend a zoning change.
“If the planning and zoning commission decides not to recommend any changes to the current zoning language, the matter will not come before the council at this time,” she said. “If changes are considered, those will come to the council as a recommendation.”
Photo: Southside Grill Owner Chris Burg wants to open a strip club on the property, 325 11th Street SW.