By Mark Matthews
Mt Ephraim NJ - This week the Fantasy Showbar building was demolished to make room for a new Taco Bell.
Even if you've never set foot in the building, everyone in the area knew of the Fantasy Showbar. Its large and somewhat graphically worded front roadside sign made it very clear what was going on inside. Some, like me, remember when it was originally a Thom McCann shoe store.
But what many don't realize, is it was also the battleground for a legal case that made its way to the Supreme Court in 1981. Considering only about 80 cases are heard by the Supreme Court, and another 50 are decided without hearing arguments... it's amazing that this small town case made it so far.
As reported last year in the Gloucester City News, and posted here at Cleary's Notebook, the property is to become a Taco Bell and as of last fall the plans include a second business at the location.
GCN Reporter Hobbs reported "Current Mount Ephraim ordinance does not allow more than one primary use per lot, prohibits drive-throughs and only allows one sign per use". After the presentation, the preliminary plans were approved.
The Courier-Post quotes Mt Ephraim Mayor James Wolk as saying back in December "What a Christmas gift for the borough of Mount Ephraim! This is a tremendous thing for the borough."
Coincidentally, it was wide zoning laws which brought the Fantasy Showbar and Mt Ephraim to the Supreme Court. Mt Ephraim had an ordinance which banned all live entertainment. The case has many references in the internet and has earned pages in the Cornel Law School site, the American Civil Liberties Union site and others.
The key aspects of the case were not "Freedom of Speech/Expression", but that the ordinance was too broad by banning all live entertainment and the town could not prove that the nude dancing at the Showbar was any worse to society than the films and products already allowed.
With the new Taco Bell construction, care is being taken to better blend the property into the community's standards, and will increase drainage on the property which currently is almost 100% covered with the building and parking lot.