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Adult businesses: Are all treated equally?

Federal Way may eventually be without any adult-oriented business inside city limits.

But that likely won’t happen before 2005.

Records obtained by the Federal Way Mirror indicate the city has entered into confidential agreements with T&A Plus Video and Video Blue — adult video stores operating on Pacific Highway South in north Federal Way — allowing the retailers to stay put even in violation of city zoning codes.

City Manager David H. Moseley signed the agreement in September 2000, a month after new zoning codes went into effect, but more than 10 months before the end of an extended period to comply with the new regulations ended last August.

But what may be most remarkable about the agreement is not who signed it, but who didn’t.

Conspicuously absent are representatives of strip club Déjà Vu, which shut down its Federal Way facility last summer after its extension to comply with zoning code changes ended.

Jack Burns, an Eastside attorney for Déjà Vu, had mounted a series of court challenges to the city code after the club was zoned out of its longstanding City Center location on Pacific Highway. Déjà Vu lost the first two rounds of court challenges, which contended the zoning code was unconstitutional and posed financial hardship on the company to relocate. The case is presently in front of the U.S. District Court of Appeals Ninth Circuit, which is unlikely to hear it before next winter.

Burns called the city deals with the video stores a “double-standard,” because the businesses have five years to move while Déjà Vu had just one.

He also said he was bothered by the confidentiality clause of the agreement.

If he had known of the the agreement, he said he would have raised the issue of unfair treatment before U.S. District Court Judge Marsha Pechman. It was Pechman who upheld the city ordinance and later denied the club’s appeal.

Burns said the city may have singled out Déjà Vu because of its legal challenges.

“We were litigating and we were doing it fairly aggressively,” Burns said.

Burns added the issues for the other retailers were “precisely the same.” If the city was serious about ousting adult-oriented retailers, it could have taken them on as well, he said.

“The additional cost of the litigation would have been almost inconsequential,” he said.

But City Attorney Bob Sterbank has a different take.

He said the city had tried to strike a compromise with Déjà Vu early on, but was constantly faced with pie-in-the-sky requests and legal challenges.

“If that’s what they’re saying, they are complaining about a problem that’s entirely of their own making,” Sterbank said. “They were unwilling to agree to any reasonable period (to move or close the business).”

The club wanted 10 years to relocate and for the city to suspend its laws affecting the conduct of exotic dancers, “So that they could do whatever they wanted inside the business,” Sterbank said.

In effect, dancers would have been permitted to simulate sexual acts and get closer than 4 feet of patrons — actions that are now expressly prohibited in city code.

“Needless to say, we felt that position was unreasonable,” Sterbank said.

Last month, Sterbank was able to have Déjà Vu’s city business license rescinded — a move that would preclude the strip club from reopening even if owners win a court challenge.

THE AGREEMENT

In its agreement with the adult video stores, the city cannot force the stores to move from their sites before Feb. 13, 2005. The city also stipulates it won’t release company tax returns or other financial documents filed with the city before allowing the companies a chance to object to their release in court.

The video stores, for their part, agreed to move to the south side of Federal Way or to cease business in the city by Feb. 13, 2005

And both parties agreed to dismiss lawsuits stemming from the dispute, and to keep the matter entirely confidential.

“(T)he parties shall state only that ‘the matter has been settled,’ without disclosing terms of the Agreement,” and won’t make any public disparaging comments about the other, the documents state.

Sterbank defended the confidentiality provisions of the agreement, saying they could prevent a business from harming the city’s reputation and head off future lawsuits.

“Those types of provisions are as much for public’s protection from slanderous comments as anything else,” he said.

Joe Feuerstein, president of Video Blue, Inc. declined to comment for this story. Phone messages left for Robert Bacon, vice-president of T&A Plus, Inc were not returned. Neither were phone messages left for officials of Déjà Vu Everett-Federal Way.

Originally, the revisions to city code could have forced out retailer Lover’s Package, which operates a store on South 320th Street But Sherri Moury, president of Peekay Marketing which owns Lover’s Package stores, said the city has since relented and is not forcing the store to move or shut down.

Moury said her store was not an adult entertainment establishment comparable to a strip club. Unlike Déjà Vu, customers make purchases and go home. “It’s a little differ

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