ST. GEORGE – In a three-to-two vote the St. George City Council turned down a motion to allow the Dance Haven to operate as a dance hall in the Southgate Planned Development area of the city. John Carter, the owner of the Dance Haven, agreed with the vote.
“I actually think what the city did is right,” Carter said.
Opposition and support
Carter, along with property owner Dan Derrick, had asked city officials to amend the list of permitted uses in the Southgate Planned Development Master Plan, an area situated between the Black Ridge and I-15. A number of recreational and entertainment venues are permitted, yet dance studios and non-alcoholic dance halls were not listed. So Carter and Derrick sought a zoning amendment to add these classifications.
However, preexisting businesses Eagle Ranch Academy and Stephen Wade Auto, both of which are located below the hill where the Dance Haven is located, objected to the zoning change.
“It defies logic to think a dance hall would be compatible with a youth treatment facility,” said Jim Arslanian, admissions director and part-owner of Eagle Ranch Academy. The Academy is a residential treatment facility for at-risk youth, and that having a dance hall within 200-250 feet of the property line was too close and posed a threat to students’ recovery,” he said.
Jim Arslanian’s words were met by boos from Dance Haven supporters. This action was answered by Mayor Dan MacArthur calling for quiet and civility.
Among the primary concerns listed by supporters of Eagle Ranch Academy were worries of disruptively loud music and rowdy patrons.
Kirk Smith, former Washington County Sheriff, also said the Dance Haven’s current location on Blackridge Drive was not a good idea. He said a “worst case scenario” involving the Dance Haven and Eagle Ranch Academy could snowball due to the actions of just one out-of-control individual.
“It only takes one,” Smith said.
Paul Arslasian, a cofounder of Eagle Ranch Academy, echoed objections to having a dance hall close by, and read a letter from Stephen Wade that cited concerns that vandalism could be caused by Dance Haven patrons.
He also noted that if the city council allowed one dance hall to exist in the Southgate area, it would be obligated to allow others.
Carter said that, as he listened to the objections raised by Eagle Ranch and others, he started to think: “If the image of dance halls is so negative, I don’t want to be a part of it.”
In his 20 years of running dance studios and so-called dance halls, Carter said, he had experienced none of the troubles listed by Eagle Ranch and others.
City Councilor Jimmie Hughes asked if anyone had heard music coming from the Dance Haven at night, no one said they had.
“They can’t see or hear us” Carter said during the meeting. “It’s an invisible business.”
Prior to the objections, up to 20 people approached the city council during the public hearing in support of the Dance Haven and John Carter’s character.
“I haven’t seen any alcohol at the dance halls John has run,” said Mike Rennert. He said his family had been going to Carter’s previous dance studios for years.
Others said the Dance Haven would be family-friendly and a “good clean place to go.” Stories of how Carter and his dance studios had been a positive influence were told, while, others said there was need to worry about security. People at Carter’s establishments policed themselves, they said.
“I have better security than the St. George Police Department,” Carter said.
The council votes
Before the vote, the city council discussed the situation.
“This is not an easy decision,” Councilor Ben Nickle said, and added the Southgate location may not be the best for the Dance Haven. He also mentioned he had worked in at-risk youth treatment centers for 10 years, and that people who worked in treatment centers often didn’t get credit for the help they provided.
City Councilor Gil Almquist said to Carter that he was a victim of previous dance halls that had come to St. George and left an unsavory reputation.
“There’s a lot of protection already built in,” Councilor Jon Pike said. He said he felt the current city dance ordinance, which has a reputation for being stringent, actually helped the Dance Haven’s position
A motion to vote on the zone change was motioned by Pike and seconded by Hughes.
Almquist, Councilor Gail Bunker and Nickle voted against the change. Hughes and Pike voted for it.
What lies ahead?
After the council meeting, Carter said he no longer wanted to apply for a dance hall. There was too much negativity surrounding the concepts of such establishments, so he no longer wanted to be associated with that kind of establishment.
“We aren’t in the same category as a dance hall,” he said, referring to a statement Jim Arslasian made, calling the Dance Haven a dance hall/nightclub because it had a pool table inside.
“I don’t want to be known as a nightclub,” Carter added.
Instead, Carter said his businesses have had more in common with recreation centers than dance halls.
Unlike dance halls, recreation centers are a permitted use listed on the Southgate master plan. “We can be a rec center and be fine,” he said.
Carter plans to change the name of the “Dance Haven” to the “Recreation Haven,” and will launch a public relations campaign meant to change the public’s perception of what his business actually is.
“We’re going to go in as the Recreation Haven – a haven for recreation,” he said. Carter added he will continue to teach dancing, as well as offer games of pool, darts, and others to the public. Dance lessons won’t be the only thing his business will have to offer.
He said it remains to be seen whether or not his new plan flies with the city.
As for Eagle Ranch Academy, Carter said he had invited them to the Dance Haven, but they declined the offer. “They’ve never actually been there, so they don’t know what I do.”