Dance Ban is Dead

J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · August 25, 2008

Arlington, Va.—The dance ban is dead. This week ended the two year saga of one Arizona county’s bizarre attempt to force local entrepreneurs Dale and Spencer Bell to ban dancing outside their Country & Western restaurant, San Tan Flat, or else face fines of almost $200,000 a year. The father and son teamed up with the Institute for Justice Arizona Chapter to defeat Pinal County’s arbitrary harassment; their victory became final this week when the county did not appeal the Bell’s successful legal challenge to the ban.

“We built this business literally from the ground up with our own hands and we’re proud of it,” said Dale, who runs San Tan Flat with his 18-year-old son and business partner, Spencer. “I’m very pleased that freedom and common sense have prevailed. Running a small business is hard enough without the arbitrary harassment of local bureaucrats threatening to undo our years of hard work.”

San Tan Flat is a popular steakhouse in Pinal County—located between Phoenix and Tucson—that provides live country music in its outdoor courtyard. Customers often dance to the family-friendly entertainment under the desert stars. County officials, however, dusted off an obscure 60-year-old zoning ordinance to argue that every time one of Dale’s customers swayed to the music the steakhouse instantly morphed into a “dance hall.” According to the old law, dancing outdoors in a “dance hall” is strictly forbidden.

In his final judgment rejecting Pinal County’s creative attempts to distort the zoning ordinance, Judge William O’Neil stated, “Such argument entirely ignores the plain meaning of the ordinance, and attempts to spin the definition into whimsical interpretations to effect more violations.”

Jennifer Perkins, an attorney with the Institute for Justice, the public interest law firm representing San Tan Flat, said, “Dale and Spencer’s fight against Pinal County represents the battles of all entrepreneurs who face arbitrary and abusive government power. The right to earn an honest living free from government harassment has taken a giant step forward thanks to Dale and Spencer Bell, and their willingness to stand up for economic liberty.”

Shortly after San Tan Flat opened in 2005, Pinal County officials began harassing the entrepreneurs. The county forced them to reduce the number of entrances San Tan Flat had off the highway from four to one and restricted them from advertising with more than one sign. A government agent even made a special trip to scrutinize the restaurant’s firewood. Government agents then started showing up three times a night to see if San Tan Flat violated the county’s very restrictive noise ordinance—adopted after the steakhouse’s opening. Despite months of constant monitoring, San Tan Flat never once violated the noise regulation. So the bureaucrats dusted off the dance ban, and demanded that Dale and Spencer act as dance police.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better 18th birthday gift than to see the Arizona courts vindicate our right to run our business without the County’s harassment,” declared Spencer Bell, who turned 18 shortly after Judge O’Neil’s ruling. “Finally we can close the door on the two year fight for our economic liberty, and begin the victory dance.”