Bare Knuckles and Bare Breasts

Forget talk of a settlement. Bachman Lake homeowners vow to fight their war against bare nipples to the bitter end.

Zijderveld counters that a mile and a half is close enough to feel the impact when the clubs have turned the nearest major commercial center into a red-light district. "I'm sure if I wanted to sell my house, it would take me longer, and I probably would get less than if they weren't there," she said.

Staff, who lives far from the area in the Lakewood section of East Dallas, has always said his interest was purely commercial: He does own a bank near the clubs. He says a steady stream of his best business customers have departed from the area since the mid-1980s when the clubs started coming in. At a desk in the bank one afternoon after closing, he counted down the list of respectable restaurants and businesses that have closed nearby since the mid-'80s.

"The McDonald's just closed down in the last couple weeks. People wouldn't bring their children here. Tupinamba, Steak and Ale, Chili's Grill and Bar, Black-eyed Pea, Vincent's Seafood, RJ's By the Lake, the original Great Outdoor Sub Shop, they're all gone.

No cover, no kidding! Baby Dolls on Northwest Highway provides the kind of entertainment in which the act is the message.
Mark Graham
No cover, no kidding! Baby Dolls on Northwest Highway provides the kind of entertainment in which the act is the message.

"This isn't a moral crusade for me. This is pure business."

That doesn't mean it's not a moral crusade for others. Dan Panetti is executive director of the Dallas Association for Decency. Panetti, a lawyer, says that he is also a realist and knows his organization may never achieve its ultimate goal.

In an office at the back of a North Dallas shopping center, he asks, "Do people have a right to do things we don't approve of? Yes. I can say that I know that I can't eliminate the sexually oriented businesses. But would I, from a personal standpoint, rather see that no sexually oriented businesses exist in Dallas? The answer is exactly yes."

On a large wall map of the city across from his desk, colored push pins show the location of what he says are all of the city's sexually oriented businesses. The locations are based both on city licenses and on some sort of patrol or surveillance that Panetti and his organization have carried out.

This is a war for Panetti, one he relishes, and he is candid about why. His organization is founded on the conviction that pornography and sex for money constitute an addictive disorder that destroys lives just as narcotics and gambling do. In what Panetti calls "a sex-saturated culture," he sees value and importance in standing up publicly for propriety.

"If there's no more victory than that, than being able to express that value, it's enough," he says.

The other phalanxes opposed to the topless clubs say they have no more than a friendly alliance with DAD based on their mutual opposition to the clubs. Panetti says a little ruefully that the distance between the groups is even greater than that in certain key respects. "I don't see any checks coming in to DAD from them or from their churches," he says of the Bachman community.

But taken together, the activists and the moralists do make up the opposition, and what they share is an adamant hostility to the notion of settlement or compromise. Michael Jung, an attorney who has represented Staff and some of the neighborhood groups on these issues, says the mood of the opponents makes it difficult to imagine any compromise that both sides would accept.

"I don't think there is a compromise possible that would leave any of the topless clubs in place in the Bachman area," Jung says.

Perhaps the best clue to the kind of compromise the clubs might propose is in the 1994 Fort Worth sexually oriented business ordinance of which Swander, the First Amendment lawyer who has represented several Dallas clubs, was a co-author. The ordinance codifies a political deal by which a group of the city's better-established, more prosperous clubs agreed to a set of sign restrictions, landscaping requirements and other measures designed to hide their clubs from view, along with an agreement not to try to move into certain high-tourism areas of the city. In exchange, the city exempted the clubs from zoning requirements.

It was a truce, based on a novel concept. A person who was close to the negotiations that led to the Fort Worth deal, who spoke to the Observer on the condition that his name not be published, said, "If you could get both sides of that deal to be honest with you, the clubs and the city, they'd all agree that the Fort Worth law probably isn't constitutional."

And so what, he suggested. It's an Old West deal. The clubs agree to cover up and stay put. The city agrees to lay off. And the real hammer--the thing that holds the deal together--is the fact that it would be far too expensive for any new club operator to come in from the outside and try to out-lawyer the city of Fort Worth and the grandfathered clubs at the same time.

It's a kind of sex syndicate, all between good ol' boys. Typical Fort Worth, perhaps, but would it fit Dallas? The Fort Worth deal is exactly what the club owners want at Bachman. They won't say anything publicly about it now, but at various points in the past they have made explicit offers to the city that have paralleled the Fort Worth deal. In exchange for a permanent truce, Burch and other owners have promised to agree to all sorts of cosmetic measures and have even agreed to buy up the smaller clubs around them and shut them down.

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