/ Articles / St. Germain voters seek action on ordinances restricting ‘sexually oriented businesses’

St. Germain voters seek action on ordinances restricting ‘sexually oriented businesses’

Town officials, residents, know time is of the essence

April 28, 2020 by Brian Jopek

Voters at St. Germain’s annual meeting April 21 approved a resolution authorizing the town board to, essentially, take steps needed to enact town ordinances “in regards to permitting sexually oriented businesses.”

“Therefore, be it resolved that we the electors, authorize the town of St. Germain to pursue restrictive ordinances that will limit the establishment and operation of sexually oriented businesses in the majority of our zoning districts in accordance with the boundaries of the federal, state and local laws,” one section of the resolution, introduced by St. Germain resident Len Larsen, reads. 

In fact, Larsen made the motion to approve the resolution with Leslie Hiller providing the second and after about an hour of discussion, the resolution passed nearly unanimously. 

Other than two votes eventually cast against adopting the resolution, there was no disagreement expressed at the meeting, town chairman Tom Christensen saying at the beginning of the discussion it was “an emotional item and I don’t want to minimize any of it.”

“Just so our meeting keeps going, let’s all remember that the vast majority, if not all of us, do not want this type of business in our town,” he said. “We don’t believe ... it’s good for other businesses in town, it’s not good for our property values. Real estate investments, it’s certainly not good for that. And tourism, the base of the economy in this town is tourism and it isn’t going to help our tourism, either.”

The rumor

At the March 10, 2020 regular monthly meeting of the town board, the board was asked during the public comment portion of the meeting if The Golden Pines Supper Club on State Highway 70 on St. Germain’s east side was going to be sold and become a gentleman’s club. 

With the matter not on the agenda, Christensen said the town board couldn’t have an open discussion about it. 

“So, unfortunately, we have to kind of sit here like lumps on a log,” he said then. “To my knowledge, that has not happened.”

In an article published in the March 13 edition of The Lakeland Times, a partner in Bucktails, a Sugar Camp gentleman’s club with an Eagle River address, said the rumor mentioned at the March 10 St. Germain town board meeting “was not correct at all.”

“We have been trying to squash that rumor,” Laura Rich said. “We are not affiliated with anyone else purchasing a club in this area. Period. End of story.”

At the April 21 annual meeting, Christensen, who told The Times the possibility of a gentleman’s club established in St. Germain and what could be done about it came up again the week before the annual meeting, told the audience he was visited by the owner of The Golden Pines Supper Club the day before. 

“He told me has turned down the offer,” he said. “He is not going to sell it to anybody, to his knowledge, that’s going to run that type of business there. So, we have dodged the bullet on the Golden Pines.”

However, Christensen said there are two other tavern/restaurants for sale in the town of St. Germain. 

“They could have the same thing happen to them,” he said, adding it was uncertain if the owners of those businesses have the same feeling about having a gentleman’s club in the community. 

With the tone established and everyone apparently in agreement, it seemed the discussion would be brief. 

However, things got bogged down in how the town would go about getting the ordinances in place once the resolution was passed. 

Perception and reality

After Christensen’s introductory remarks, Hiller, who said she owns several businesses in St. Germain, said a gentleman’s club or any sexually oriented business wasn’t anything she wanted to see in the town.

“Prohibiting this kind of business is tricky,” she said. “That being said, it is far from ... almost impossible to make it for (these) businesses to come to St. Germain. It has to be accomplished through restrictions and ordinances and we are, I feel, well equipped to do that.”

In his remarks leading up to his motion to approve the resolution, Larsen expressed gratitude and appreciation to the town board in addressing the issue. Later in the meeting, though, he appeared to take Christensen to task because Larsen said had been in contact with Christensen on March 14 about the matter but didn’t get a response. 

Larsen said if any bars or restaurants in St. Germain were to sell right now, “there is absolutely nothing we can do to limit or restrict their services or location” if they were to become an SOB of some sort.

“If we were to develop enforceable ordinances, and thousands of communities and municipalities have them, we can significantly restrict operations in our community,” he said.

Larsen cited towns such as Three Lakes, Minocqua and virtually all towns in Oneida County that have such ordinances in place “to protect their downtown communities.” 

“Because their ordinances are well constructed, they more than likely would never be challenged in court or lose a court case,” he said. 

Others, Larsen said, like Hazelhurst, didn’t have an ordinance in place and the town ended up with a costly court battle it ultimately lost, resulting in an adult book store there. 

Larsen used that as an example as to why restrictive SOB ordinances are needed in St. Germain. 

The resolution calls for establishment of a citizens advisory committee to work with the town zoning committee to get an SOB ordinance or ordinances put together and approved, something a few in the audience expressed would take too much time. 

Town supervisor Brian Cooper, citing state statutes, maintained there were at least two sections of the resolution, dealing with the formation of the advisory committee and the paragraph authorizing the town by the electors to establish the restrictive zoning ordinances, that weren’t actionable at the annual meeting. 

Saying he understood where Larsen was coming from, Cooper also urged Larsen to amend his motion by removing the two paragraphs from the proposed resolution, something Larsen refused to do. 

Jack Wiggin, a five-year resident of St. Germain who said he’s owned property there for 25 years, spoke to the issue of what he felt could and couldn’t be done at that point.

“There’s perception and then there’s reality,” he said. “Reality gets into the legal definitions of the loopholes and exactly what the town board can do and can’t do. But for every person in this room, there’s another 20 people out there as residents that are very interested in what comes out of this room here.”

Wiggin said they may not be in attendance because of the COVID-19 situation or other reasons. 

“If we walk out of here with the agreement, ‘Well, a committee’s gonna be formed,’ that is not the kind of perception this township needs,” he said. “So, at least, if it’s in a resolution, that we’re directing, asking, whatever the town board to take some actions, whether it’s legal or not legal or proper or improper, what’s important in the voice of the people — you — has been given to this board in a public, published way. I think that’s very important.” 

The vote to approve the resolution as introduced by Larsen was 43 in favor and two against. 

Other votes

Voters also approved three other resolutions — to have control of the town’s cemetery transferred to the town, to have town owned property with an eight year old dam formerly owned by Vilas County transferred to the Lost Lake district and authorization to construct an addition to the remaining portion of the Bo-Boen groomer barn. 

One other matter brought to the floor was a motion by resident Jack Bourgeois to double the town clerk’s salary from $16,000 to $32,000 and the town treasurer’s salary from $11,800 to $23,600.

Tom Martens, the town clerk since 1971 and who has said he won’t run for re-election next year, couldn’t provide any information as to how much time he spends each day on town business. 

Town treasurer Marion Janssen wasn’t at the meeting, but has approached the town board recently about an increase in salary for what she does with regard to room tax the town receives. 

Citing a lack of information provided at the annual meeting, the motion by Bourgeois was defeated by electors.  

Brian Jopek may be reached via email at [email protected]

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