City council votes down dance hall, owner agrees with result

The back of the Dance Haven as seen from the parking lot of Eagle Ranch Academy, St. George, Utah | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News.

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.”

Email: [email protected]
twitter: @MoriKessler
Copyright 2012 St. George News.

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  • Tyler June 8, 2012 at 7:25 pm

    So just what is it about a dance club being so immortal and frowned at by St. George city coucil? Seems so old fashioned to be using the term ‘dance hall’, but around here, not surprisingly, the old term better fits in with the city council’s view I guess. This is so ridiculous, how big does this town have to get to be devirginized? Get real!! VOTE NEW CITY LEADERS

    • Seriously! I voted last year for new members, and I was the only person under 60 at the polls. Everyone around me was a senior citizen. And people wonder why our city council keeps making decisions some retiree would make–because we let the senior citizens decide who our city council is every year.

  • Barb June 8, 2012 at 7:28 pm

    Ridiculous and comical indeed. The square heads at city hall would find any and all excuses to vote down a dance venue, anywhere in town! Ok, so i can kind of see it being an issue that close to a youth crisis center, but Stephen wade, you are foolish and naive to say the least.

  • Barb June 8, 2012 at 7:53 pm

    Seems the owner agreeing with the vote down by the city needs to man up and grow a pair. He shows how people are such scared sheep around here, omg when will things ever change??? This ongoing discrimination by the city council towards dance/entertaimnent venues needs to stop and be fought to the end. STG, beware, you’re only growing and so is the college and youth population. This hideous anti-dance thing you are known for cannot last forever…

    • Lisa June 9, 2012 at 11:45 am

      Barb, Did you read the article? Did you watch the city council meeting? You need to man down and be realistic. He’ll stay open by being a recreation center which is “zone appropriate.” He’s definitely not backing down. There is only so much you can do when someone else is in charge. OMG

    • Starfish June 10, 2012 at 4:20 am

      You don’t know anything. Unless you were there and you watched what happened ..I suggest you do some research before posting an ignorant comment as this about John. It is what it is!! Either way we will have a place to go when want to have family fun. I was there and it was money and power that overruled, John did not just give up he fought hard and so did all the supporters including myself. Do you know John ? I don’t think so..if you did you would of never posted such a ignorant foolish comment.

  • DancingIsNotACrime June 8, 2012 at 8:14 pm

    This latest anti-dance movement by the city council not long after the “Footloose” image the city showed after not allowing dancing at GOGO37 (located on commercial hub, St George Blvd, mind you) several months ago, televised on statewide news outlets, only further proves that St George really is not dance friendly. I respect the fact that it is in close proximity to a youth crisis center, but what am I supposed to think when about any location in town would have some sort of justification? Everybody knows a mormon church is on about every other block!

  • redrock June 8, 2012 at 8:45 pm

    What a complete and utter farce! Just goes to show that the Eagle Academy doesn’t teach their clients about the real world, just a protected world. Stephen Wade auto showed be boycotted by all citizens of Washington County, their object is just plain asinine. Kirk Smith must live in a paranoid world, how sad! The biggest issue is the total lack of anything for people to do. But lest we all remember that only MONEY talks in this city. Why aren’t citizens commenting about the budget because they all know that NO city council member listening to any that hasn’t contributed greatly. Pathetic that this city is ran by a few for the benefit of a few. Try to get anything passed without having given big bucks to the mayor or council!! Thank god Mesquite is close!!!!

  • urbanboy June 9, 2012 at 12:20 am

    Ahaha so not surprised by this one! This is such a special town..

  • urbanboy June 9, 2012 at 12:27 am

    @redrock, right though?? Thank god atleast a small dose of real world (Mesquite) is near! They even dub the new ENVY nightclub to be southern Utah’s only nightclub without the pesky Utah restrictions. They be rakin in the local dough!! They must totally laugh at us here in the STG, especially being like 10 times bigger than Mesquite hahah

  • *LDS Gurl* June 9, 2012 at 12:41 am

    Lol, what is this issue with dancing in St. George I hear of? I’m religious but please believe, God never said dancing was a sin. I love hitting a club and being social once in a while. Ultra conservative, ultra religious Provo even has dance/nightclubs in which i loved to go, yes PROVO, Utah! Get with the times, break loose and have some fun, Washington County, #not everybody moves or lives here just to die!

  • Stewy Griffin June 9, 2012 at 1:02 am

    Dancing 🙂 Is Not. A. Crime!!!!!!!!! :/ Shake, shake, shake, shake shake it…shake it, sh… sh… sh… shake ittt 😛

  • Bob Willis June 9, 2012 at 1:12 am

    Maybe this is a bit irrelevant, but…Can someone please explain to me how another Mormon chappel was recently built within feet of a State Liquor Store on Valley View near Sunset? Is it just me or does something not add up?

  • Jason June 9, 2012 at 9:47 am

    Nice to know atleast some of the council members voted for it. So, if Southgate isn’t the a favored location, why not look elsewhere? Nice, prime property still remains vacant at the very busy intersections of Bluff/Main and Hilton/Blackridge. It’d be nice to see those corners developed into nice strip malls or upscale restaurants.

  • Oscar June 9, 2012 at 11:01 am

    Yes Bob, it’s irrelevant.

  • Dave June 9, 2012 at 11:38 am

    I still remember reading the Spectrum for the first time and seeing Benjamin Nickle’s anti-gay letter to the editior. Now the guy sits on the City Council. The dominant culture (religion) of which he is obviously a part continues to do its very best to prevent adults, both young an mature, from enjoying themselves.

    What’s really odd here is that you would think the Eagle Ranch Academy as a home for at’risk kids would be a bigger threat to Stephen Wade than the dance club. Can’t believe the Arslanians read that with a straight face.

  • I would just like to point out that there are more institutions in Washington County that are solely for the purpose of treating troubled teenagers than there are places where the specific purpose of the venue is for teenagers’ entertainment. The country looks to St. George as the place that will make their children complacent enough to deal with.

    I think I’ve been saying this since the council passed the small business abortion measure, but our town motto really should be, “St. George: We’ll Make Sure You Don’t Have Fun!”

  • STG college dood June 11, 2012 at 10:54 am

    AMEN, Matty!! It’s a fun place for toddlers and old people. But the gap between age 8 and 54…VERY LAME!!

  • Robert June 12, 2012 at 1:23 pm

    As a member of the youth of St.George I am ashamed that I have not voted or even gone to a council meeting. This needs to change, the youth needs to get out there and have their voices heard, I for one think its time for a new mayor, and if we get a young person running with young people backing them they couldnt be stopped

  • Not a Mormon June 12, 2012 at 3:30 pm

    baa baa black sheep

    Keep your heads in the sand, old Mormon coots!
    Why can’t this town have a “rock the vote” type re-birth? Put all these old folks out to pasture. Imagine what a great place this town could be if all the religion, old-minded people, and fear disappeared.

  • Bud Weiser June 12, 2012 at 4:27 pm

    One subject has been talked about yet. Even though they don’t sell alcohol at these dance halls, there is plenty of alcohol brought by participants. some bring vodka in water bottles, others have found sneaky ways to do other things. Good call by the council.

  • WT* June 12, 2012 at 4:32 pm

    If only… IF ONLY, this little suburban oasis in the desert we know as St George was built and settled just feet to the south in Arizona?! T’would be so much more norm 😛

  • Dancing with women is fun! June 13, 2012 at 9:23 am

    Nichols is a disappointment for a new city council member. He campaigned to bring new ideas and being progressive. Just another set of lies that everyone should be used to hearing from your city governing body. Just as the city found reasons to deny GoGo37 a dance permit (your Dixie singin’ mayor stated dancing promoted promiscuity and drinking), the same council finds reason to deny John Carter a permit to operate a Dance Hall. Anyone who knows Carter ought to remember how well he operated the Dance Factory in Washington City.

    You have a pathetic St George city council. New businesses open their doors downtown only to close up shop a year later because of their heavy & greedy hands. However, their good ole boy business can have toilet bowls, bath tubs and other junk in front of the Main Street store, a code violation for which anyone would get a citation. Your city continues to raise taxes to fund its wagon trains, carousels, splashpads and other costly expenditures, none of which draw any money to the city. But let’s deny a permit to businesses that can draw income.

    The only image your city government is creating for St George is an image of a poorly managed city with a city government that is closed-minded and refused to listen to its citizens, listening instead to themselves and their perceived religious ideology. Pathetic town. Get a clue and quit being so heavily dependent on tax dollars.

    I refuse to volunteer any of my time in any capacity to a city that turns a deaf ear and a blind eye toward its citizens.

  • Big Bob June 13, 2012 at 2:46 pm

    Very well said, “Dancing with women is fun”. This is the City Council’s city, not its citizens. An embarassing 12 percent voted last city election. So, an embarassing 2 percent are running all of us in this valley! That says a lot about community caring and involvement doesn’t it?

  • Big Bob June 13, 2012 at 2:52 pm

    (I meant an embarassing 12 percent are running all of us in this valley)

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