A dispute over plans to open a nightclub in Wantagh has emerged as the main issue in Nassau's tight 5th District legislative race between Republican Christian Browne and incumbent Democrat Joseph Scannell, with Browne threatening to sue his critics for defamation.

Two Wantagh homeowners -- both registered Republicans -- sent letters to 5th Legislative District residents, urging them to vote against Browne, a member of the Hempstead Town zoning board, saying the establishment was going to be a strip club.

The letter, mailed at county Democrats' expense, said the board allowed nightclub owner Billy Dean "to open another strip club in our town." Dean operates Bellmore's Showtime Cafe, which bills itself as "Long Island's Number 1 strip club" on Billydeans.com.

"If Christian Browne can vote to destroy our local neighborhood, just imagine what he will do to yours?" the letter said.

Browne, of Rockville Centre, called the claims "false and scurrilous." He said the zoning board last year specifically forbade nudity when it approved a public assembly license at 3500 Sunrise Hwy. in Wantagh.

"You cannot say I granted a strip club when we, in fact, prohibited a strip club," Browne said.

Records show Browne participated in the location's first hearing in April 2010, was absent when the board granted a temporary public assembly permit a few weeks later, and then voted with the board in June 2010 to make the temporary permit permanent. The license bans "topless," "bottomless" and "nude entertainment."

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He voted again with the board this August to revoke the permit after hundreds of Wantagh citizens protested the club and Hempstead Supervisor Kate Murray said she didn't want "a red-light district" in a residential neighborhood.

"It's not going to be a strip club," said Dean's lawyer, William Cohn, who has filed an appeal in state court. The nightclub will be a cabaret with Coney Island- and Las Vegas-style acts, he said. "There will be no nudity. Stripping down is not stripping."

The Billy Dean website refers to the Wantagh nightclub and says, "Our goal is to present an exhilarating facility that will entertain you and your guests for an evening out, to which you will never forget."

But Wantagh homeowner Kevin Milano, who cosigned the letter and has led protests against the club, said Dean testified before the zoning board that the proposed Wantagh club would be similar to his Bellmore cafe. Although nudity is also forbidden there, Milano said, the Bellmore club advertises lap dances, hot-oil wrestling and features barely-clad dancers.

Scannell, of Baldwin, said Browne should own up to his votes. "He took a vote to approve a strip club in a residential community, which is wrong. The 5th District should know what his voting record is."

Browne responded, "That is totally factually inaccurate."

Browne, a lawyer, said he would sue Milano and Scannell for defamation. Browne said Vincent Ciro, the other Wantagh homeowner, recanted after he talked to him. Ciro declined to comment except to say he remains "100 percent opposed" to the Wantagh club.

"Let him sue me," said Milano. "This is a fight for the kids in my neighborhood. I'm not going to back down to a guy like Chris Browne who obviously doesn't care about our community."

Browne said, "We're all in the same side in this fight. I am a person who has tried to prevent an unsavory use from coming to their community."