LAKE JACKSON — City officials revoked the certificate of occupancy for a downtown business that had been allowed to open as a dance studio, effectively ending its operations.
“Lake Studio” at 3 Circle Way opened in August under a set of city guidelines that the operators violated, City Manager Bill Yenne said.
Flyers advertising an “ultimate dance party” on an August Saturday night with free shots, an opportunity to bring your own alcohol and stay from 10 p.m. until 4 a.m., circulated on social media.
Karetta Lux Entertainment, a self-identified promoter, advertised Lake Studio’s lessons with “free refreshments” and “more info available upon arrival” on Facebook. Since the city revoked the certificate of occupancy Sept. 3, she posted, “We ask that you all please be patient once again until we work out the details! Sorry for the inconvenience. — LAKE STUDIO,” on Sept. 5.
After initially replying to Facebook messages, Lux did not respond to questions for this article. Calls to the number listed on the page went unanswered. Her page since posted, advertising alcohol at another location.
The flyer and actuality of the operations conflicted with what Jeffrey Tisdale, the man who rents the space in the old Lake Theater from property owner Sammy Gashi, told the city he would be doing in the building, Yenne said.
Tisdale did not respond to messages left on his cellphone Thursday and Friday.
“It’s a zoning and certificate of occupancy issue,” Yenne said.
A dance hall, event center and club are not allowed in the B-2 central business zone, or in the city at all, Yenne said.
Tisdale approached city staff to ask about opening a dance studio, then began asking questions about alcohol, Yenne said. Tisdale gave an example of if he were teaching a couple to ballroom dance, they might want to sip on wine, Yenne said.
That would be acceptable as long as the studio operates within the guidelines of the zoning ordinance, he said.
What actually happened during the last two weekends of August when the business operated did not equate to what the city considers a dance studio, Yenne said.
After multiple discussions with Tisdale, Lake Jackson Building Official David Walton sent him a letter regarding zoning and use verification for 3 Circle Way #C on Aug. 16, according to city documents.
Walton issued the occupancy certificate in late July, he said.
The letter states that permitted uses of a B-2 zone include studios, defined as the working place of a painter, sculptor or photographer, or a place for the study of an art such as dancing, singing or acting.
“Your plans to operate a dance studio complies with the zoning and building code requirements for its location and may be operated as such … Uses other than those listed outright in the B-2 zone; including but not limited to banquet halls, dance halls, event centers, and party venues are not permitted,” the letter states.
Also on Aug. 16, City Attorney Sherri Russell sent a cease and desist letter for a dance party scheduled for 3 Circle Way on Aug. 17.
Tisdale, Lux, Gashi, a leasing agent and two representatives of the Brazoria County NAACP met with city officials on Aug. 20, according to city documents.
Brazoria County NAACP President Eugene Howard said he attended to ensure Lux’s civil rights were not infringed upon, citing an ongoing “cultural misunderstanding” of the flyer and lack of representation in city administration.
Howard has not been to Lake Studio during its operations, he said.
According to Lux’s Facebook page, Lake Studio opened to guests 21 and older on Aug. 24.
Walton visited Lake Studio at about 2:15 a.m. Sept. 1, he said.
“I did not observe any dance instruction happening,” Walton said.
After walking in the front door, Walton said he saw a reception desk and a notepad where a person could write their name and pay a fee to go inside. He then entered into a large, open room painted all black with low lighting, he said.
There was a large bar at the back, tables and chairs and a DJ stand, Walton said. People congregated around the bar, sat in chairs, drank alcohol and danced in the middle of the room, he said.
Open dancing or large gatherings of nonparticipants would not be allowed in a business occupancy, Walton said. It would be an assembly occupancy, which the area is not zoned for, he said.
Clute resident Nick Norris said he visited Lake Studio the second night it was open and saw it as an after-hours club.
Since he works in the restaurant service industry, he said it was nice to have somewhere to go after he got off work late at night.
Lux posted a video Aug. 30 that shows people dancing, a bartender making drinks, people standing and drinking alcohol, and a man pouring what appears to be a liquor bottle into a woman’s mouth.
Clubs, dance halls, party venues and bars are not allowed in Lake Jackson, which is a dry city, Yenne said. To change that, people need to add them to the zoning ordinance by coming before the planning commission, he said.
To serve drinks at these venues, they would need to change the liquor laws by a local option election, spurred by a petition with 35 percent of registered voters’ signatures, he said.
Lake Studio got around the liquor laws by giving away free drinks and allowing people to bring their own, according to Facebook posts, which does not require a permit from the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, Commission Public Information Officer Chris Porter said.
This is legal as long as an establishment gives any non-intoxicated person of legal age a drink if they want one, whether or not they pay for a service or any kind of fee, Porter said.
Walton sent letters to Tisdale and Gashi revoking the certificate of occupancy on Sept. 3 by email, certified mail and regular mail, he said. He also spoke to them both on the phone that day, he said.
The letter states the revocation is due to the space operating as an assembly and issues a citation alleging violations of the building code and Lake Jackson code of ordinances.
People can still go in the building, but the water is cut off and a business cannot operate there, Walton said. Lux tried to visit Walton at the office this past week when he was not in, Walton said.
They have not had contact since the letter, he said. Tisdale has not contacted Walton since Sept. 3, he said.
The decision can be appealed to the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustments, the letter states.
Gashi did not have any part in the operations and simply owns the building, he said. He was under the impression that Tisdale would give children dance lessons during the day and adults dance lessons at night, Gashi said.
Gashi feels like a victim in the situation, he said, and felt something was fishy when he saw the flyers.
“I said this is not a dance studio, it’s a club,” Gashi said. “I don’t want a club in my building … whatever it is, I don’t want it.”
Gashi said this ended his business relationship with Tisdale, and he hopes to terminate the lease. He has a court date regarding the citation from the city on Oct. 1 and will find out more about what needs to be done, he said.
Gashi invested $200,000 in the building and wants to get a return on his investment from rent, Gashi said. This situation cost him “a lot of money” and Gashi hopes to rent to someone else, he said.