Dance Gestapo

Colorful San Tan Flat's owner says Pinal County's out to get him, and he's probably right

In 2003, Bell rode into Pinal County with a proven hand at steakhouses in Wyoming and South Dakota. What better place for a Wild West entrepreneur to set up shop than the mountains of Pinal County?

Smith and Pinal officials gave a standing ovation when Bell first presented San Tan Flat, a circle of five buildings with a courtyard, a stage, and enough cowboy memorabilia to put many museums to shame. The timing couldn't have been better. Just as Pinal County was bursting with Valley overgrowth, San Tan Flat opened its doors.

Then the war began. Rural neighbors complained about the noise from San Tan Flat's outdoor stage. A former politician (Bell organized Ron Paul's first campaign and lost a congressional seat to incumbent Tom Daschle in 1984), Bell wooed each naysayer. He visited in their homes, had them down for drinks. One by one, they agreed to support San Tan Flat.

Outdoor dancing seems to be prohibited in Pinal County only at Dale Bell?s restaurant.
courtesy of Dale Bell
Outdoor dancing seems to be prohibited in Pinal County only at Dale Bell?s restaurant.

Except one. Kristen Guerra, whose home is nearly a quarter-mile from San Tan Flat, vowed to call the sheriff every night to complain about noise. "She's certainly kept that promise," said Bell, who's now spent thousands of dollars in a yearlong legal battle with Pinal County.

The county has since snagged Bell's steakhouse on a number of beefed-up violations. First, they tried to penalize him for noise, but Pinal County didn't have a noise ordinance. So it created one of the strictest in Arizona and then sent sheriff's deputies to take hundreds of decibel measurements. San Tan Flat has never exceeded the strict, 60-decibel limit.

Next, Pinal officials went after San Tan Flat's number of paved parking spots. Bell would be fined, they said, unless he paved more desert. After Bell spent $40,000 to pave the "required" spots, officials reduced the required number by half.

Pinal officials gave Bell rules for his firewood, his entrances, his motorcycle patrons, and his signs. Bell adhered to them all. Then, one year and nearly $64,000 of legal fees, fines, and asphalt into the San Tan saga, Pinal officials got creative. On January 17, the county fined Bell $5,000 per day for allowing patrons to dance to country-Western music at San Tan Flat.

With a Stetson pulled over his copper hair, singer Lee Alexander was sipping an iced tea between performances at San Tan Flat. Pinal planning officials approved the stage Alexander would perform on, but at a January hearing, the same officials said they expected mimes and comedians to perform at the country-Western restaurant, not country-Western musicians.

"They're singling Dale out for some reason," Alexander said. "If you use the county's logic, every day care where kids dance outside is a dancehall, so is every charismatic church."

Alexander has been playing Western music in Arizona for about a decade. He's seen multitudes of folks dance outdoors in Pinal County, and never before has he seen a restaurant fined for being a dancehall.

About 20 minutes north of San Tan Flat and five minutes from Sandie Smith's mountainside home sits the Mammoth Steakhouse and Saloon, where Lee Alexander plays every Friday and Saturday night.

There, Alexander has watched Pinal County Supervisor Sandie Smith, who upheld fines against Bell, sit by while patrons danced under the stars.

"Sandie Smith sent a little girl to request my Johnny Cash medley," Alexander said of a recent gig at Mammoth. "Folks were dancing outside, and Sandie Smith sat there watching. She hasn't done anything to Mammoth or any other venue. It's not about dancing. She's just after Dale."

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5 comments
Roy T.
Roy T.

Been to the Mammoth many times and they don't have dancing under the stars like your story says. They have dancing inside. To dance outside patrons would have to crowd what is about a 300 square-foot patio out back with picnic tables on it. That fact, which your writer got wrong shoots lots of holes!

Jack T
Jack T

Regardless of whether the San Tan is a restaurant or a saloon, the heart of the matter is the continued abuse of power by local government. For Sandy Smith to sit at the Mammoth and allow the same 'goings ons' that she is opposing at the San Tan is a blatant abuse of her position. The example cited in the article of forcing the San Tan to pave a number of parking spots then reduce that number after the paving was done is an example of same abuse by everyone in the Pinal County government. Everyone involved should be held accountable.

Kristi Crow
Kristi Crow

Marcus: You are the guy that has not done his research. By all accounts of the "Pinal County Hearing Office" legal records show San Tan Flat sells twice as much food as Arizona requires to be classified as a restaurant. You suggest it is a "saloon"...like that is something bad??? Facts documented in Tribune from the "Hearing" show they (San Tan Flat Steakhouse) sell twice as much food as beverage which clearly makes them a restaurant...a very popular one at that!

Marcus
Marcus

This story is very one sided and is mostly all America bull****. Apparently Bell has made promises concerning his (Saloon that sells food) that he failed to follow through with, and had initiated the first use of an attorney before the County was involved. He does not consider his neighbors and is in flagrant disregard for their concerns.Too bad you did not thoroughly research this issue before you rushed to print such a one sided story. Shame on you.

Marcus
Marcus

A very one sided all American bull **it story that only tells a small part of the story.Unfortunatley Bell does not stand by his word and has apparently made promises about his (saloon that serves food) that were not followed through with.Shame on you for not doing more research into this one sided story

 
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