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Juice Bar owner in Florence, Minn., in court over adult bar's closure

FLORENCE -- Controversy and legal problems have followed Dale Peterson throughout 18 years of operating adult entertainment businesses in communities including Boyd, Montevideo and Cosmos.

Peterson closed his operations in Montevideo and Cosmos after facing criminal charges and community opposition. The Boyd business is operated by a separate owner, and remains open.

Now it's the tiny Lyon County community of Florence that is involved in court with Peterson, 59, as president and manager of the Juice Bar.

The community passed an "anti-blight'' resolution in August 2008, zoning the entire community for residential use only. The community consists of 16 single-family homes with a population of 36 residents, according to court documents.

When Peterson opened the non-alcoholic Juice Bar featuring adult entertainment on Dec. 17, 2010, in a former bar in Florence, law enforcement officers came to the doors.

"At 10 o'clock at night they told me to shut it down,'' said Peterson.

He did.

Peterson subsequently filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the city's zoning.

In October 2011, U.S. District Court Judge Donovan Frank of the Minnesota District denied a motion by Peterson for a temporary injunction against the city that would have allowed the Juice Bar to remain open while his lawsuit was pending.

In the meantime, he's made the building his home residence and advertises to welcome guests there every Friday and Saturday evening. For a $10 lodging fee, guests have access to what Peterson considers his permanent residence. The interior features a lighted runway with a pole and exercise bike he designates with a hand-written sign as the "exercise room.''

Judge Frank will again hear issues in the matter on June 15. The city of Florence is asking for a summary judgment to dismiss Peterson's lawsuit and an order that he discontinue the evening activities in the property.

"Our contention is that what he is doing is still an adult business, not a residential use of property,'' said the lawyer representing Florence, James Thomson of Kennedy & Gravens in Minneapolis.

Thomson said the city also argues that the U.S. Supreme Court has previously indicated that small communities can zone their entire boundaries for residential use, to the exclusion of all commercial activity. Lyon County is large enough to allow Peterson opportunities to locate his business elsewhere, if that is what he wishes to do, Thomson said.

Lawyer James Lester of Fargo, N.D., is representing Peterson, and counters that the Supreme Court did not go so far. Court rulings make it possible to restrict the locations of entertainment businesses, "but you can't kick it out completely,'' said Lester.

He also will argue that Peterson has a right to hold parties in his private residence.

Peterson said undercover agents and even a private investigator have come to the parties. He charges that they are looking for prostitution or other illegal activities that he does not allow.

Peterson contends that more is at stake than the constitutional rights that allow adult entertainment businesses. "If they say I can't do this in my home, who is to say they can't come to your house and say you can't do what you want?''

If the judge does not issue a summary judgment as requested by Florence, the case will proceed to trial in U.S. District Court.

If the judge issues a summary judgment against Peterson's lawsuit, his attorney said they would consider an appeal.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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