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Impure Thoughts in Lakewood

Erotic dancers in Lakewood must now apply for and purchase a $25 entertainer license.

They may not dance within six feet of their customers; they may not perform on a stage that moves, rolls, raises or shakes, and the stage itself must be at least eighteen inches off the ground, according to new rules passed by the city council.

Cash tips may only be deposited into a bucket located away from the stage, and not in the garments of the dancers.

The exterior of any adult business in Lakewood must be painted a neutral color, preferably taupe, tan or gray.

Outdoor advertising may not include silhouettes of the human body, photographs, or "pictorial representation of any manner."

Erotic video arcades and screening booths may not be enclosed, and only one person at a time may occupy the space.

Managers who supervise adult businesses in Lakewood are required to register with the city clerk.

Lighting inside every adult business in Lakewood must "provide illumination of not less than two (2) footcandles of light measured at the floor level."

And the strip joints, performers and video arcades of Lakewood have just ninety days to comply with the new standards.

If only there were any strip joints, performers or video arcades in Lakewood.

After a full year of research and investigation, Lakewood deputy city attorney Janet Young revealed a five-inch-thick document at the May 24 council meeting, an update to chapter 5.47 of Lakewood's municipal code. Her body of work contains twenty pieces of evidence, including detailed studies on the adverse secondary effects created by adult businesses and recent court rulings from the Colorado and United States Supreme Courts.

"You want to have it in place before the businesses open," Young says. "You don't want to play catch-up after a business has already opened."

Assisting Young in her presentation last month was First Amendment attorney and former Colorado state representative Barry Arrington, who, Young gushed in her introduction, graduated from a Texas law school "with honors." Approximately twenty members of the Lakewood Citizens for Community Values also attended the meeting.

No one who owns, operates or performs at an adult business spoke at the meeting, although there are six adult book/novelty stores in Lakewood. But Young makes it clear that "the products purchased there [the book/novelty stores] are for off-site use only."

Lakewood's fetish for regulating adult businesses can be traced back to its unexpected relationship with Central City. In 1993, when the little mountain town became one giant casino, Lakewood officials suspected that gamblers traveling from Denver through Lakewood and on to Central City--and back--would spread a moral infection through their suburb. At the time, not one adult bookstore, novelty shop or strip club existed in Lakewood, but officials feared that the long stretch of West Colfax Avenue that runs through the northern edge of the city would fill in with sex shops, Young says.

So the city council drafted its initial sweeping regulations, which put the clamp on the sex industry in Lakewood. Boasts Young, "We were the first city in metro Denver that had a comprehensive ordinance."

In the original version, Lakewood had required customers of the non-existent sex clubs to be at least 21. But the law was a little too rigid for the Colorado Supreme Court. In 1997 the court ruled on a similar case from Colorado Springs that put the minimum age of patrons at eighteen.

In July of the same year, a business owner named Patrick Lenahan attempted to open Lakewood's very first adult live-entertainment business--a lingerie-modeling store--at the Cedar Rock shopping center, at 85 South Union Boulevard.

City officials and residents of Lakewood were nervous about the plans. In August, residents appeared at a council meeting wearing orange ribbons as a symbol of their anti-pornography campaign and urged officials to reject Lenahan's advances. The following month, the city surprised everyone by approving the application. Within a week, however, an anonymous citizen alerted City Attorney Roger Noonan that Lenahan's shop fell within 750 feet of the Bruno Vocational Center--a clear violation of the original 1993 ordinance, the citizen pointed out.

Lenahan made a federal case out of the flip-flop by suing the city for unconstitutionally interfering with his ability to make a living. Most of the suit has now been thrown out, Young says. Lenahan's attorney, Arthur Schwartz, did not return Westword's phone calls. The only issue still in dispute is whether Lakewood has provided a "reasonable number of commercially available locations for an adult business to operate."

Young addressed that concern at the May 24 council meeting by mapping out eleven places in the city where adult businesses can do their work and wrote them into the new ordinance.

And since 1993, the six adult bookstores have sneaked their way into this bedroom community. When a city councilmember asked Young why the six stores had seemingly popped up overnight, a silence fell over the chambers.

"What caused this?" the councilmember asked.
Legally speaking, the Colorado Supreme Court has been loose with its interpretation of the First Amendment--in Young's opinion--by allowing sex businesses to operate, and their proprietors are happily pitching their collective tents in Colorado.

After listening to that explanation, another councilmember suggested that Lakewood officials share their shiny new ordinance with other city governments. "They might want to see it," he said.

However, Noonan predicts that the entire ordinance will eventually be challenged in court. Still, the issue provoked lively discussion.

The most evocative purple talk of the evening came from the residents of Lakewood.

John Ellmaker suggested that the city hike up the license fees for sex businesses in Lakewood so that residents can reclaim their lost money from sinking property values.

Jason Janz, a member of the South Sheridan Baptist Church, opined that "what takes place inside these places is morally wrong." (He was speaking of adult businesses, not council chambers.) And if Lakewood allowed any more porn shops to open, the city would be "like Denver." He said he works with many young men--perhaps hundreds--at the church and is concerned that inappropriate images on signs or in the windows of adult businesses would have deleterious effects on their minds.

"I bring the example of Columbine," Janz concluded. "If you study anything about it, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold listened to the music of Marilyn Manson. And if you studied Marilyn Manson, you'd know that the start of his road that he is now on, leading a whole cult of young people down the wrong path, started when he was twelve years old when he found X-rated videos in his grandfather's basement."

Janz received so much applause after his sermon that Lakewood mayor pro tem Carol Kesselman was forced to pound her gavel to bring the chambers to order. The ordinance passed 10-0. There was no discussion of writing a new ordinance to regulate grandpa's basement.

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