Residents concerned about potential for Butta Bing reopening
June 14, 2011
The potential reopening of the Butta Bing strip club on Route 51 in Overbrook drew about 10 residents to a June 7 community meeting, during which they expressed concerns about adverse effects the adult entertainment venue could have on the neighborhood such as sex-related crime, drug trafficking, drunk driving, parking problems, and traffic congestion.
City councilwoman Natalia Rudiak, who called the meeting, urged attendees to also voice their concerns at the Zoning Board of Adjustment Hearing originally scheduled for June 9. Residents unable to attend the hearing were urged to email her a letter she could present to the board.
Objections can also be mailed after the hearing to: City of Pgh. Zoning Board of Adjustment, Dept. of City Planning, 200 Ross St., Pittsburgh, PA 15219. Include your date, name, address, and contact email or phone.
At the Zoning Board hearing, Councilwoman Rudiak asked for and was granted a continuance on the venue's zoning request. The hearing has been postponed until July 21 at 10:20 a.m.
According to the hearing notice, the applicant is seeking reconstruction of a non-conforming use of an adult entertainment club. Reconstruction of a non-conforming use is a special exception in a highway commercial (HC) zoning district.
The applicant, Daniel Smithbower, is the property owner and holder of the liquor license. No one has been named as operator of the business — should approval be granted and construction commence.
The Zoning Board of Adjustment will have 45 days to issue its decision.
Mr. Smithbower, who attended the community meeting, said the plans he is presenting at the zoning hearing involve demolishing the structure currently standing at the site.
"We would be rebuilding within the footprint," he said of retaining the same measurements: while the current building is 50 feet by 60 feet, a new facility would be 48 feet by 60 feet. It would also remain three floors as is the present structure.
He estimated the rebuilding costs at more than $1 million.
The meeting began with Jason Kambitsis, of City Planning, explaining the zoning board process and the hearing is open to the public. Residents may also express their opinions to the board at that time.
To an attendee's complaint of why there appears to be a sudden rush for a hearing, Mr. Kambitsis said notices of the hearing were posted on the building and sent to six surrounding households, three weeks ago. It was also published in a newspaper.
"That is sufficient notice in Pennsylvania," he said.
Carol Anthony, president of the Overbrook Community Council, read a letter she wrote and planned to read at the hearing on why she opposed reopening the Butta Bing at 1885 Saw Mill Run Blvd.
Her concerns included: the club will not add to the community; crime, prostitution, drug trafficking will follow; the area is congested and surrounded by residential districts; parking will overflow onto residential streets; and sex-related crimes rates are higher in adult entertainment areas as studies, she said, have shown.
"This is a faith-based community," said a resident.
Mr. Smithbower, of Murrysville, said he will be represented at the hearing by First Amendment attorney Luke Lirot, of Clearwater, Florida.
Mr. Smithbower said the site was never a nuisance property in its 30 years of adult entertainment, which included Sonny Dayes (1978-1990) and Bottoms Up (1990-2005). He took possession of the property in 2005 after Bottoms Up closed. This is his only business venture.
He said the initial approval he secured from the city allowed him to reopen as the building currently stands. But "in the spirit of public safety," he wanted to start from the ground up.
The new club would have about 10 employees — not including dancers. Food will be served.
There would be 20-plus parking spaces, he said, with overflow cars parking in the lots of neighboring businesses' which grant permission. It would open afternoons and close at 2 a.m. Occupancy would be from 100 to 200 patrons.
Mr. Smithbower said while he assumes fear of adverse secondary effects is fueling the opposition, adult entertainment businesses have a right to exist.
An attendee commented that she had not heard anything to convince her that a strip club would be a positive thing for the community.
To a question of why he can't "put up a greenhouse instead of naked women and booze," Mr. Smithbower said that is the use of the property right now, and there are liens against it.
The former owner, Bernardo Katz, defaulted on numerous mortgages and loans, including some with the Urban Redvelopment Authority (URA).
"I was also a victim of Katz," said Mr. Smithbower.
Another attendee said while such businesses follow "the letter of the law," it is what happens when patrons leave the club that the trouble begins.
Ms. Anthony said while there were no problems at Sonny Dayes and Bottoms Up (she monitored police scanners), today's world is more violent with sexual assaults.
An attendee said she is worried about the sex trade — "bringing people in and taking advantage of them."
Mr. Smithbower said such a violation would get the club shut down.
An attendee said the club hires strippers to entice the patrons to drink more, and she does not like those drunken patrons then driving onto Route 51.
Mr. Smithbower said it is the same rationale for hiring bands.
"It's all entertainment," he said.