MORIARTY, N.M. (KRQE) - Club 203 isn't your average strip club.
It's named after the freeway exit it sits next to off of I-40 east of Moriarty. There's no neighborhood, just cars streaming by. A cow sits in a pen outside keeping watch over the parking lot.
On the day KRQE News 13 stopped by the club was open for business but empty.
It's all because of a legal battle being waged between Torrance County and Club 203.
The topless bar's owner Ryan Michell went to the county's zoning board to get his business' adult-use permit renewed. The minutes from that meeting show board members found a number of issues with Michell's establishment including several code violations, no health permit for the restaurant next door and curtains blocking the VIP area.
Even so, the board unanimously voted to approve the permit with the condition that Michell get the issues taken care of.
Michell tells News 13 those issues were solved, but at an April 10 Torrance County Commission meeting, commissioners voted 2-1 to overrule the zoning board's decision. That vote meant Club 203's dancers had to put their tops back on.
"Doing the numbers a couple weeks later we had lost about 60 percent of our income," Michell told News 13. "It forced me to lay off about 30 independent contractors, sever our relationship. Further I had to lay off because of the lack of income five full time employees and three part-time employees."
So Michell sued. In a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday night, Michell's lawyers claim Torrance County violated and ignored its own zoning rules and was discriminating against their client's business because of its adult nature.
It didn't take the county long to respond. Wednesday, a day after the suit was filed, the commission met and voted to reconsider their decision 2-1, allowing Club 203's dancers to dance topless again in the meantime.
Now Michell says he's rebuilding his business.
"We lost a lot of our customer base that would come to see the girls, and obviously we've got to get the word out again," Michell said.
Commissioner Lonnie Freyburger told News 13 during a phone conversation that commissioners were also concerned about an excess number of 911 calls to the topless bar.
Torrance County Sheriff Heath White says the number of calls for Club 203 isn't higher than normal when compared to other bars or nightclubs. A Mountain View Telegraph article citing White says there were 139 calls over the last two years.
Club 203 can remain topless until at least mid-June. That's when the commission is set to take up the issue again.
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