Down on the Plantation II

Jim Crow flies over this central Broward town

Imagine that. So there are good blacks after all, huh? Webster, for all his hate, has been championed by the Miami Herald, which has occasionally quoted him on local political issues. In April 2001, Webby's won a Readers' Choice Award from the Herald, which raved that the place "offers a friendly ear and plenty of locals willing to gossip about Plantation pols and city scandals... And it can too easily become a second home. That's how comfortable you feel after just a visit."

In a 1998 Herald article, Webster revealed the secret of his success: "I started feeding one cop. You get one cop, then the next thing you know, he brings his buddy, and his buddy brings a few more." No wonder blacks don't go to Webby's -- as I reported last week, there aren't many black officers in Plantation, not nearly enough to sustain a bar-and-grill business.

Cause for hope came a few months ago: Webster sold the place. So I went in last week and spent a couple of hours there. Nobody behind the bar, which is still called Webby's, said anything racist. That was a record. I chatted with a friendly-faced man, who looked to be in his late 40s. The conversation turned briefly to Saddam Hussein. The man said thugs like Hussein can be successful because life has little value in Third World countries. "Why do you think people from India own all the convenience stores? Because they aren't afraid of the niggers, that's why," he answered himself. "Dot heads will shoot niggers without thinking twice about it because they won't take it."

Fred Harper

Classic Webby's talk. It's not so much that the guy thinks this way; it's that he spouts his narrow and hateful musings to a complete stranger.

Webby's is certainly a unique place -- look around Plantation and you will find no other establishment quite like it. That's because it's illegal. The property is zoned B-1P, for neighborhood use, which forbids restaurant bars. In Plantation, restaurant bars must have at least 4,000 square feet and a minimum of 200 seats. Webby's isn't close to 4,000 square feet and has only 50 seats. City law dictates that it can sell beer and wine only in conjunction with food service.

Every evening, though, regulars drink beer from the taps behind Webby's horseshoe-shaped bar, which is walled off from the restaurant side. Monday Night Football draws a crowd. Televisions, sports posters, and beer signs line the walls. It's a bar, but Webster called it something else. "We called it a counter," he said. "The city didn't want us to call it a bar, so we didn't."

But what about the name on the shingle outside: Webby's Pub and Grub. I called City Planning Director Marcia Berkeley to find out why she wasn't enforcing the law. Berkeley contended that Webby's bar is allowed as a "nonconforming use" because it had been there before the area was zoned B-1P. But she's wrong. I obtained a copy of the building permit pulled for the partition built between the grub and pub sections. On it is not only the B-1P status but written in the upper right-hand corner is "no bar and lounge -- counter only."

The person who penned those words should have known the rules -- she's now the mayor of Plantation. Rae Carol Armstrong, then a councilwoman, built Webby's partition. Webster paid Armstrong's company, RCA Construction, $4,050 for its work. Her partner on the job was Ron Kall, a Plantation architect who routinely represents businesses before Armstrong's council and relies on politicians' approvals of building plans. Armstrong refused to comment for this column.

The conflicts of interest here are outrageous. But the existence of Webby's bar, more than anything else, proves that, in Plantation, it's not so much who you know as who you know to pay. If you go through the right channels, the city will usually cut you some slack. If you operate outside the all-white power clique, you lose.

Which brings us to a place called Boogie Nights. Located in the Holiday Inn on University Drive, Boogie Nights has a dance floor, a disco ball, a DJ, and a full-service bar. It advertises itself on the Internet as a "retro discotech." Boogie Nights, in layman's terms, is a nightclub -- and it opened after the city, its racist tendrils still inflamed by the Brickhouse, had banned them.

At a City Council meeting this past January 30, officials noted that Boogie Nights seemed to be in violation of the nightclub ordinance and that there had been some noise complaints. But rather than shut down the club, the council decided to amend the law. While the city works on the amendments, Boogie Nights is up and running.

Suddenly, the city is cooperating with nightclubs again. Perhaps that is because Boogie Nights is located in central Plantation and, while its crowd is mixed, it's not predominantly black. Another reason is that it's represented by Bill Laystrom, a City Hall regular and partner of former Mayor Frank Veltri's old buddy, lobbyist Emerson Allsworth. Laystrom wields enormous power over the council, and he talked the dais-sitters into revisiting the ordinance. "We're waiting to see what the city comes up with," Laystrom told me. "They could go with us or against us... I think everyone agrees that the city needs more entertainment uses."

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