After agreeing to end a string of lawsuits between the city and the Pink Pony strip club, city leaders say it’s time to move on. The strip club is throwing a “settlement party.”
With an exit strategy for the Pink Pony in place, Mayor J. Max Davis says it’s time to focus on other city needs.
“We look forward to enhancing our focus on preserving neighborhoods and continuing our work on police, parks, paving, sidewalks and traffic,” he said in a statement.
The settlement, approved by the Brookhaven City Council on Nov. 4, ends three lawsuits between the club and the city, and a dispute that goes back to the city’s start more than a year ago. The settlement came after the Georgia Supreme Court ruled in the city’s favor in one of the suits and said the city had the authority to regulate sexually-oriented businesses.
“This exit transition agreement settles three lawsuits currently pending against the city of Brookhaven and also eliminates yet another looming lawsuit relating to alcohol licensing which Trop. Inc. was to file had the city moved to immediately lock the doors at the club,” he said.
Davis said the city’s ordinance outlawing sexually-oriented businesses that serve alcohol will prevent more strip clubs from operating in the city and that is why it was adopted, “not to go after the Pink Pony.” This agreement lets the city keep that ordinance while allowing the Pink Pony to continue to operate, he said.
On Nov. 4, in front of a packed house of Pink Pony employees and supporters, the council agreed to allow the business to continue offering nude dancing while serving alcohol during a six-year “transition” period to come into compliance with city ordinances or shut down.
In exchange, the Pink Pony will pay the police department $225,000 a year for the six years to cover public safety costs, reimburse the city for its legal fees, donate land near the club along Peachtree Creek for a city park, and contribute up to $75,000 for that park.
Pink Pony owners said they agreed to the settlement because they need the six years of operations to recoup the cost of investments they’re making in the business.
Dozens of Pink Pony supporters showed up to the meeting, with some asking to let the business be.
“I think we should leave the Pony alone, leave it as is, and we’ll all get along fine,” longtime Brookhaven resident Richard Wellmaker told the council.
He said he once worked for the club as a floor manager. He pointed out that the Pink Pony holds charity golf tournaments and hosts a Toys for Tots drive at Christmas.
Brookhaven resident William Dunn told the council that he was a regular visitor to the Pink Pony and that he didn’t like that the government was interfering with his life.
“I started going to the Pony not long after it opened in the early ‘90s and have been a regular day-shift customer since,” Dunn said. “This may not be what you consider mainstream, but this is the way I live my life, and I feel free to live it here in DeKalb County.
“When the city of Brookhaven began to be talked about, I didn’t think it would apply to me down near the intersection of North Druid Hills and Buford Highway. . . . Imagine my surprise when the first thing the City Council does is start working to close down my local bar. I feel like you drew a line around me and my bar to pull me into your city, and then want to close it down.”
Hours before he was elected as Brookhaven’s District 2 City Council representative, John Park asked the council to delay the vote until his district had representation.
Councilwoman Rebecca Chase Williams cast the sole vote against the deal.
“I’m still opposed to it and consider it a bad and unethical deal for the city,” Williams said, reading from a prepared statement during the meeting. “And yes, I still consider it a payoff for looking the other way.”
Councilman Bates Mattison, who made the motion to approve the deal, said that it worked in favor of the taxpayers since the city will recoup its legal fees. Councilman Joe Gebbia said that respect must be paid to any business that existed in Brookhaven before the city incorporated.
Aubrey Villines, a lawyer for the club, thanked the council for keeping the Pink Pony open for now.
“I think you’ve made an intelligent choice to compromise, and like all compromises, we’re not totally happy. There are things in that agreement that we wish were not in there. There are things not in that agreement that we wish were there,” Villines said. “We want to continue to be the good neighbor that we’ve been for 22 years. . . . Don’t be a stranger, come see us.”
Mayor on Pink Pony: ‘This contentious issue is now behind us’
Editor’s note: Brookhaven Mayor J. Max Davis issued this statement following a settlement between the city of Brookhaven and Trop Inc. over the operations of the Pink Pony strip club.
By J. Max Davis
There are many complexities the city of Brookhaven inherited with the Pink Pony, which has been operating for more than 20 years.
Under a prior administration, DeKalb County entered into an agreement with the Pink Pony. The agreement, renewed in 2007, would have lasted at least 25 years with options for perpetual renewal. This arrangement, along with the unenforceable DeKalb ordinance dealing with sexually oriented business (SOB), was the reason Brookhaven had to adopt its own ordinance and chart its own path.
On Nov. 4, the city of Brookhaven concluded an “Exit Transition Agreement” with Trop Inc., d/b/a, the Pink Pony. The hard-fought litigation over the constitutionality of Brookhaven’s SOB was effectively ended in Brookhaven’s favor by the Georgia Supreme Court. Unfortunately, the court did not settle or solve all pending and future litigation on this issue. This Exit Transition Agreement dismisses three separate lawsuits currently pending against the city of Brookhaven and yet another potential lawsuit relating to alcohol licensing.
Vastly different from the county’s prior arrangement, wherein money was paid into Dekalb’s general fund to “look the other way,” this limited term agreement does the following:
- Preserves Brookhaven’s ordinance in whole, preventing proliferation of strip clubs in the city.
- Reimburses the legal fees of $283,000 expended by the city in defense of its ordinance.
- Ensures that the club will operate in a defined and limited time period as it transitions into compliance with the city’s ordinance, or conversely, ceases operations as a strip club.
- Funds public safety requirements as paid to and directed by the Brookhaven Police Department. Brookhaven Police will not be “looking the other way”, rather, they will be looking directly at the club as they come into compliance with our law.
- Provides for inspection, operational monitoring, as well as full compliance with the city’s alcohol ordinance and eliminates so-called “VIP” rooms.
- The club will improve and protect the adjacent north fork of Peachtree Creek, addressing storm water and buffering issues and deeding green space to the city.
This agreement ends all litigation and enforces full compliance with our laws. This contentious issue is now behind us. We look forward to enhancing our focus on preserving neighborhoods and continuing our work on police, parks, paving, sidewalks, and traffic.