The Cottage, 522 Lucerene Avenue, Lake Worth, FL has been under attack by a small group of local residents who are using the city's noise ordinance to harass The Cottage. Noise complaints have been made by four residents on almost a daily basis for the past three years. The noise complaints began shortly after The Cottage began its Sunday Tea Dances and branded itself as the only gay-friendly, downtown restaurant in Lake Worth. Many times when the police have responded to a complaint, The Cottage has not even had any live music playing. The police in general are sympathetic and understand that The Cottage is being unfairly targeted but must continue to respond to the calls.
After a year of harassment, The Cottage reached out to the city for assistance. Unfortunately, the City chose to enable and feed the underlying homophobic current, instead of helping a viable and community oriented business as well as honoring its own civil rights ordinance which provides protection for sexual orientation and gender expression.
Commissioner Joann Golden has publicly made disparaging and unsupportable remarks about the supposed "noise problem" at The Cottage during several City Commission meetings. Commissioner Golden spearheaded a revision of the noise ordinance, which now contains the possibility of criminal prosecution, and made "downtown noise" a public issue. However, the only establishment which continues to receive harassing complaints is The Cottage.
In May of 2009, Loretta Lutfy, proprietor of The Cottage, along with family friend and local gay rights advocate, Mike Zewe, met with City Manager Susan Stanton to seek assistance to stop the harassment. Instead of receiving support from Ms. Stanton, they were dismissed from her office with homophobic remarks.
Ms. Lutfy says, "She (Stanton) first asked if I would consider stopping the Tea Dance for awhile. I responded that I would close my entire business first. She dismissed Mike and me from the office ending the conversation by saying that "men in dresses, and men dancing with men is offensive. If you continue, you will just have to suffer the consequences.'"
For the next year, The Cottage, knowing that they had no support from the City, felt the only choice was to bear the harassment and hope it would stop. Unfortunately, it has not and Susan Stanton has joined the four complaining residents in their crusade to chip away at the business until it has no choice but to close. Stanton has added to the attack by sending code enforcement daily to The Cottage to look for violations. She went as far to change the hours of the code enforcement office to send employees at all hours of the day and threatened criminal prosecution.
Further, after reviewing public records, we have learned in an email correspondence with one of the complaining residents, Stanton condoned suggested vandalism of The Cottage by that resident. The resident wrote to Stanton that since The City was not working to his satisfaction to stop the music at The Cottage, he thought he would egg the business and would the city reimburse him for the cost of the eggs. Stanton replied, "What size eggs?"
Please help us stop this abuse of power by City Officials and the homophobic attack of The Cottage by four residents. Lake Worth is a diverse community with a large gay population who are welcomed as a valuable and viable part of the community. We wish to gain signatures from local residents and anyone who patronizes the downtown area. Of course, we welcome signatures above and beyond our goal from anyone who supports us.
We will once again be approaching the Lake Worth City Commission and demand that they step up and protect our community from abuse, harassment and discrimination from these four residents, City Manger Susan Stanton, and their fellow Commissioner.
Noise ordinances and code enforcement are to protect residents. They are not to be used as weapons by City Officials acting on bigotry and discrimination to single out and target certain businesses.
The Lutfy family invested a great deal of money to turn an empty gravel lot into a viable and attractive business which brings many visitors to downtown Lake Worth. The Cottage during the past several years has donated tens of thousands of dollars in services, food, and revenue to countless local charities.
We urge you to take immediate action to stop this harassment and reverse the slanderous attack upon The Cottage which your Commission has helped to foster.