Italian Gravy 

Is restaurant guise for strip club?

Over the past month, construction crews have been erecting the wall of a new building on Fisher Steel Road, and if neighbors' suspicions are correct, that might not be the last thing to be, er, erected at the site.

Outside the windowless structure, a sign heralds the arrival of La Italiano, ostensibly an Italian restaurant. But given the building's facade and the fact the owner, Steve Cooper, also runs Christie's Cabaret and the Gold Club, some Cordova residents fear the restaurant will actually be a strip club.

Last week, more than 200 concerned citizens gathered at a Cordova Leadership Council meeting. Brian Stephens, who sits on the council's board of directors, informed residents that Cooper's property is zoned "heavy industrial," the proper zoning for a strip club.

However, Stephens said the location is too close to both a church and a residential area for a strip club. According to city ordinance, sexually oriented businesses cannot be located within 1,500 feet of churches, schools, homes, or parks.

Stephens warned residents of Cooper's plans to subdivide the lot. If divided a certain way, the restaurant would be outside the 1,500-foot perimeter.

Shortly after Cooper purchased the land in 1998, he went before the Land Use Control Board to request the property be divided into two lots. The board asked Cooper for a plan describing what he would be doing with each piece of the property, but Cooper refused and his request was rejected. He appealed to the City Council, but it told him to go back to the Land Use Control Board.

"He didn't want to do that, so he filed suit against the city," Stephens said. "The local federal court said no, you do need to go back to the Land Use Control Board and show them what they've asked for. He didn't want to do that either, so he's appealed to the Sixth Circuit appellate level court." That case is ongoing.

Recently, the County Commission approved a resolution calling for Cooper to use his property in a lawful manner.

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