It’s just cleared earth and mounds of dirt right now. But a “coming soon” sign, pointed to motorists as they travel west on Southern Boulevard past Florida’s Turnpike, says it all: “Future Site of Double D Ranch and Saloon” coupled with a silhouette of a curvy woman wearing a cowboy hat and sitting on a horseshoe.
It’s not clear precisely when the Double D strip club is coming, but, despite angry residents and chagrined Palm Beach County commissioners, its opening seems unstoppable thanks to some specific aspects of the county’s permitting process and laws protecting free speech.
“Nobody likes to have that type of business in their backyard or in anybody’s backyard,” said Commissioner Paulette Burdick, who represents the district where the strip club is being built. “It’s certainly understandable. Legal advice from counsel is we have no recourse.”
The permit for the adult entertainment establishment was issued to Southern Blvd. AEE in 2001, when such permits could be held indefinitely. It got the permit because it met county rules for such a business, including being a minimum distance from churches, public parks and schools and other strip clubs.
Because the project is one that tests adherence to free speech laws, county commissioners are, by law, forbidden from having the final say. The process is set up that way so commissioners could not reject legal projects they find objectionable for other reasons, which would leave the county vulnerable to lawsuits from spurned permit seekers.
The strip club could come up during a zoning meeting on Thursday when commissioners decide whether to add an item to the agenda of a January meeting that would deal with a change in county code that might allow clubs like the Double D to serve food. But any decision on that is separate from the question of whether the permit to build the club will be rescinded or if other roadblocks to construction will be erected.
Bobby Munden, an accountant who lives in Wellington and drives past the Double D site regularly, said he understands the county’s permitting process. Still, he wants commissioners to be creative in finding ways to stop the project.
“The government has a reasonable amount of power to stop this,” Munden said. “Change the rules. Let the guy sue. Might be worth it. Buy the land. (Commissioners) have a lot of power at their disposal when they choose to use it.”
Pat Lentini, whose name is listed next to the applicant’s telephone number on the permit, did not return telephone calls seeking comment.
The club has generated angry responses from many county residents, who have written Burdick and one of her colleagues, Melissa McKinlay, to complain.
“This could impact the quality, value and safety of our neighborhood, never mind the fact that is is just not the kind of place that I find morally acceptable,” Jeff Kolhagen, of Palm Beach Plantation, wrote to McKinlay. “We, as a community, might not agree on everything about our neighborhood and how it is run, but I think many of us will agree that building this place is not good for our neighborhood and that we need to put aside differences to fight it however we can.”
The area where the club is being built is dotted with plant shops and industrial strip mall businesses. Car and truck towing services are around the corner.
But there are neighborhoods in the area, including McKinlay’s neighborhood and Palm Beach Plantation, a gated community about a mile southwest of the strip club site.
Residents have reached out to her because the location used to be in the district she represents before district lines were redrawn.
Like Burdick, McKinlay has had to do what few elected officials take pride in doing: telling constituents there isn’t much they can do to stop the Double D.
“If you’re traveling on Southern, it’s your welcome to the western communities,” McKinlay said. “It’s a little disappointing.”
In responding to one frustrated e-mail writer, McKinlay said her predecessor, Jess Santamaria, should have “given a heads up to our residents.”
“However, he failed to do so,” McKinlay wrote. “Therefore, we all found out when the signs went up.”
McKinlay later wrote: “The actual location of the club is in Commissioner Burdick’s district. I do not believe she followed this issue, either.”
Neither Santamaria nor Burdick were in office when the permit was issued, a point Burdick underscored in firing back at McKinlay, who took office on Nov. 18.
“In politics, people will always take cheap shots,” Burdick said. “It reflects on their character and gives an insight into how they will behave in the future.”
Burdick added that McKinlay’s comments were “unbecoming of an elected official. And she has a lot to learn.”
“I’m sorry she took it that way,” McKinlay said, when told of Burdick’s comments.
McKinlay said that, while she knows strip club opponents reached out to Santamaria, she is uncertain if Burdick took any action in opposition to the project.