The owners of a proposed under-21 dance club were told Tuesday that they'll have to come up with a better security plan if they want the Middletown Public Safety Commission's blessing.
"It would only take something to happen for a riot or a fight to break out and one or two security (guards) are not going to be able to handle that," commission member Milton Hilliard said. "I'm not trying to be the grim reaper but these are things you've got to consider, and I think this sounds like an accident waiting to happen."
The public safety commission voted unanimously June 12 to grant 18-year-old club owners Antonino Piraino and Eric Mears more time to respond to several unresolved questions concerning security at the teen dance club they're hoping to open in the Middletown Shopping Center.
"Hopefully when we come back for a second meeting, we'll have all the answers for them and we'll be prepared for the questions they're going to ask," Mears said after the hearing. "Tonight, we weren't as prepared as we would have liked to be."
Town zoning law requires Piraino and Mears to seek a conditional-use permit before they can open the club, named Antrics, in a 1,570-square-foot retail space next to Mid-County Bowling Lanes.
The town's planning and zoning commission voted unanimously last month in favor of the permit being approved.
But Middletown's mayor and town council voted June 3 to delay a final decision until they could get input from the town's seven-member public safety commission regarding issues related to security and crowd control.
Piraino and Mears have proposed hiring up to three private security guards to check I.D.'s, screen attendees with a metal detector wand and generally maintain the peace inside Antrics.
They've also said they plan to hire an off-duty police officer through a separate firm who would enforce the no-loitering rules they would put in place in the shopping center parking lot.
But members of the public safety commission and Middletown police officers said Tuesday that they believe those plans would be inadequate, and potentially illegal.
"According to state code, (police officers) cannot act outside their law enforcement duty and work for a security company," Sgt. Christine Brenner said. "In all honestly, I'm interested to know what security company is using an off-duty officer because I can guarantee their chief is not okay with that."
Commission members suggested Piraino and Mears instead contract with the Middletown Police Department to pay two on-duty police officers to patrol outside the club, as well as three private security guards to work inside.
"That's a number that has to be paid for," commission member George Caponara said. "What happens if that's a substantial drain on your budget? Do you cut back? Or do you agree to a certain complement of personnel that must be in place … or you're not allowed to open the doors?"
Page 2 of 2 - Piraino and Mears said they would be willing to meet a minimum security requirement, but refused to discuss how it would impact their overhead or profit margin, a position that appeared to frustrate several commission members.
The tensions continued to rise after the club owners said they had not planned for an outdoor smoking area or how they would handle potential gang-related issues.
"We're concerned with what's going to show up at your doors and you're assuming they're all going to look and act like you," Brenner said. "You need to start asking questions, instead of pretending you have all the answers … You're going to have to start acting like an adult if you're going to open an adult business."
Lt. Lawrence Waldridge of the Elkton, Md. Police Department said his town was forced to deal with those issues firsthand when a teen dance club operated there for several years.
"All the things I'm hearing you gentlemen say look great on paper … but when you put it in motion, it's a dismal and epic fail," he said. "As I sit here and listen to what everyone is saying, it's déjà vu all over again."
The Middletown Public Safety Commission is next scheduled to meet July 17, meaning the earliest town council could vote on a conditional-use permit for Antrics would be Aug. 5.