Last year, protesters in Chanceford Township triumphed over a proposal that would have brought a strip club to their neighborhood.
But now the businesspeople behind the club say the township's decision silenced their freedom of expression — and they want reparations.
Terry and Brenda Sutton and Chris Cinkaj, former part-owners of the strip mall where the club would have been located, say they had a constitutional right to build the establishment. They are suing the township and several local officials over the zoning hearing board's decision.
The federal lawsuit, filed by the Cinkaj and Brogue Limited Partnership in Harrisburg on Tuesday, demands reimbursement for lost revenue and legal fees. They also seek a ruling that the township's zoning ordinances are unconstitutional, and, according to their attorney, whatever punitive damages the court sees fit.
On July 25, 2013, the Chanceford Township zoning hearing board voted unanimously against an application for an adult cabaret to open at the Brogue Center strip mall. The vote came after a series of hearings brought hundreds of protesters who didn't want "The Office" gentlemen's club in their town.
'A business issue': The lawsuit claims the local ordinances that allowed the township to reject the strip club violate the First Amendment. Chanceford Township's zoning ordinances give the township the right to make decisions based on "promoting, protecting and facilitating ... morals and general welfare." In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs argue this is overly vague, and describe their right to build a strip club as a form of free expression.
"This is a business issue, not a morality clause issue," the plaintiffs' attorney, Peter Daley II, said. "Their rights have been violated and we're trying to correct an injustice."
While last year's protests centered on moral disagreement with the adult venue, the zoning board's official rationale for rejecting the proposal was unrelated: Officials said the sewers could not handle the toilet flushing of its maximum 100 patrons.
But the strip-mall owners said last year they met all of the necessary criteria and the supposed sewage issue was just an excuse.
Many defendants: In addition to the township itself, the lawsuit names 16 township officials — its solicitor, zoning officers, township engineer and members of the planning commission, board of supervisors and zoning hearing board — as defendants.
Tim Bupp, solicitor for Chanceford Township, said neither he nor the township could comment because the litigation is pending. But he said, as of Thursday, he had yet to be served notice of the lawsuit.
Daley said he anticipates the lawsuit to last approximately a year and a half, whether it ends in jury trial or settlement.
"People have their personal religious beliefs," Daley said. "I'm not trying to impose my issues or religion on anyone else, but that (goes) both ways."
— Reach Michael Tabb at firstname.lastname@example.org.