After conflicting recommendations by advisory boards, the Wichita City Council voted Tuesday to deny a conditional use permit for Baby Dolls, a bikini bar at 4900 N. Arkansas.
Neighbors of the club have complained that it’s noisy and attracts a sleazy element. They want the city to shut it down.
But it was a lose-lose situation for the neighbors, because the council’s vote either way Tuesday wouldn’t have shut down the club, said City Council member Janet Miller, who represents the district.
With the council’s vote, the club can continue to operate, and it does not have to make any improvements.
The planning commission voted to recommend denying the conditional use permit for Baby Dolls after hearing from several residents opposed to the club.
But the District Advisory Board for the area voted to recommend approving it. Miller said the advisory board’s thinking was that if the city can’t shut Baby Dolls down, the conditions attached to the permit would at least bring some improvements.
The Wichita police vice unit and the code enforcement office have ruled that entertainment provided at Baby Dolls – strippers who go down to the bikini level – doesn’t meet the city code’s definition of a sexually oriented business.
So, legally, it is “grandfathered in,” because it was there before the city’s zoning code was passed and annexed to Wichita. That makes it a nonconforming but legal use, and it can keep operating for as long as its owners want, Miller said.
Stephen Joseph, a lawyer representing property owner Homer Morgan, said Morgan owns about 30 similar business properties that are grandfathered in and is trying to bring them all into compliance with current city zoning, even though it will cost him tens of thousands of dollars to make required improvements in sewage disposal, parking and fencing. The building was built in 1951 and has been operating as a strip club since at least the 1960s under a variety of names, including 49-a-Go-Go.
Baby Dolls is owned and operated by a tenant. Neither the owner nor neighbors spoke to the council at its meeting on Tuesday. It was unclear whether they were present.