No strip club for Las Cruces

Applicants say they will appeal the decision

POSTED: 11:21 PM MDT Sep 25, 2012    UPDATED: 03:26 PM MST Dec 25, 2012 

After nearly four hours of debate inside City Hall, the city's planning and zoning commission voted against the special use permit for a proposed strip club.

Commissioner Godfrey Crane, who represents the district the club would be built in, said it was the toughest decision he's made in his five-year run on the commission.

It was a battle of First Amendment rights and an outraged community citing morals.

The couple applying for the permit and trying to open the club, Jesse and Mariah Hernandez, refused to give any comments, instead allowing their attorney, Karen Wooten, to speak.

Wooten gave a lively presentation citing Supreme Court rulings that give constitutional protections to adult entertainment establishments.

"We are concerned some individuals are going to ask the commission to make this about morality. Upholding the First Amendment requires you to put those morals and concerns aside to look at whether the applicant has met the technical requirements for the SUP," Wooten said.

The proposed strip club, "The Bronx, had received a conditional approval in a staff report released earlier this week. The property met all the distance requirements.

The property is more than 1,000 feet from any schools, churches, day care centers, public parks or residential areas.

It is also more than 500 feet from any establishment with a liquor license.

Jesse and Mariah Hernandez sat in the front row listening to dozens of people make passionate arguments against the club.

More than 40 people stood up and gave public comment, taking up more than two hours of time.

Despite Wooten's request to leave morals out of the discussion, many opponents of the club cited religious reasons. In fact, many pastors stepped up to the podium to plead their case.

Only five men, most of them young men, spoke in favor of the club. One young man said the applicants have the right to open their business as long as it abides by the law. He argued there is separation of church and state, so the establishment should be approved.

After hours of fierce debate, several commissioners added more opposition to the discussion and asked questions.

Commissioner Crane added that he could not approve the strip club and have a clear conscience.

For a few minutes, it seemed as if the commission would approve the club with some added amendments. They discussed and voted on a few changes to the special use permit, including a rock wall on all sides of the club and allowing the club to hold outdoor events.

After all that, the commission voted against the permit in a 3-1 vote with only Commissioner Charles Scholz voting in favor.

Wooten confirmed to ABC-7 they will appeal this decision. Now the debate continues in front of city council. City officials said it could be about a month before the item gets in front of the council.