Smithtown may buy a topless bar that has operated for decades across from the town’s iconic bull statue on West Jericho Turnpike despite officials' efforts to zone it out of the location.
“We’ve been working on removing that blight from the Town of Smithtown” for over 20 years, Deputy Supervisor Thomas McCarthy said of The Oasis Gentlemen’s Club in an interview last week. “Now they have shown an interest in selling to us.”
Howard Greenberg, one of the club’s lawyers, said, “We’re going to work along with the town to see if something can happen.” But the club’s owner won’t be pushed, he said. “If a deal is going to be made, we have to agree to it.”
Council members last Tuesday authorized an appraisal of the property, which last sold in 1996 for $300,000 to 490 W. Jericho Realty Corp., according to property records. The club is owned by TJS of New York, according to court records. Thomas Murray of Pelham Manor is chief executive of both companies, according to New York State records.
Purchasing the property would “allow us to have kayak and canoe launching for residents and a possible visitor center in the building,” McCarthy said. The property backs onto the Nissequogue River, with state and county parks to the south.
The site, across from the Whisper the Bull statue, has been used for adult entertainment since 1979, despite legal wrangling with the town and to the chagrin of civic leaders and elected officials, who in 1994 enacted zoning restricting adult businesses to industrial and shopping center business zones. The ordinance categorized existing adult businesses outside of those zones as nonconforming uses after 1998 and restricted the businesses from operating within 500 feet of public places, including schools and parks.
When town officials tried to close the bar in 2003, TJS sued in Eastern District of New York on free speech grounds, arguing that the town did not give adequate alternative sites or avenues of communication for the business. The case rose to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit before it was remanded to the district court and dismissed in 2010.
How the club remains open in the same location almost a decade later was unclear. Town attorney Matthew Jakubowski did not make himself available for an interview last week. Town spokeswoman Nicole Garguilo said that in 2014 Jakubowski opened an investigation into the club and later issued summonses. He is “currently prosecuting this in district court,” she said.
Greenberg would not speak in detail, but said, “The business operates in accordance with the law.”
Anthony Guardino, a lawyer specializing in land use and municipal issues at the Farrell Fritz firm in Hauppauge, said the case had added nuance to Supreme Court decisions on the First Amendment. While the district court found that alternative sites existed when Smithtown passed its zoning, the appeals court held that the First Amendment requires courts to also consider the adequacy of alternative sites available when zoning is challenged, he said.
“City, town and village planners need to be aware of this,” he said. If alternative sites aren’t available at the time of challenge, “that’s going to create a constitutional issue.”