In the quiet neighborhoods of downtown Glen Burnie, where families play catch in the shade, this summer's hottest debate is over sex, titillation and videotapes.
Just when residents were ready to forget the town's unsavory past, a Baltimore group has brought its X-rated history back to the light by proposing to open a peep show on one of its main business streets.
Magura Enterprises wants to open an adult book and video store, complete with "private film viewing machines," at 600 Crain Highway. The company has applied for a Class Y license, which covers the private film machines, better known as peep shows.
Neighbors shuddered when they heard of the plan. Many fear the video parlor and peep show will herald a return to the their hometown's sleazy past, when X-rated movie theaters and adult bookstores flourished.
Others worry that downtown Glen Burnie will become a haven for customers that used tofrequent The Block, Baltimore's red light district. Office buildingsgradually have squeezed out many of the city's strip joints and adult bookstores.
"The last thing we want is that kind of thing going on in Glen Burnie," said Muriel Carter, president of the town's civicassociation. "I'm sure we would not be in favor of having what many of us feel is repugnant."
County Councilman Edward C. Middlebrooks, D-Glen Burnie, said he plans to introduce emergency legislation at the next meeting toblock the peep show application. He said that he'sreceived a deluge of worried calls from neighbors who live around the corner from the building on Crain Highway.
"I want this stopped before it starts," said Middlebrooks, who grew up in Glen Burnie and remembered how the town's reputation suffered in its pornographic heyday.
Glen Burnie was the commercial hub of the northern end of Anne Arundel County during the 1940s and 1950s. But the town gradually declined with the development of shopping malls and the expansion of the Baltimore suburbs in the 1960s.
By the mid-1970s, the town center had become a small red light district, with an X-rated movie theater, a strip joint and several adult bookstores. A series of arson fires damaged many of the businesses toward the end of the 1970s and prompted the county to begin an urban renewal program.
Government offices, small businesses and senior citizen housing replaced the X-rated block in the 1980s. The urban renewal program changed the face of the downtown shopping district, luring developers to build restaurantsand offices. But the economicslowdown has left many of the newly-built spaces vacant.
Middlebrooks said he's determined not to let Glen Burnie deteriorate again. Although the proposed adult bookstore is a mile from the urban renewal center and close to a liquor store, it's also next to a peaceful neighborhood.
"We don't want some sleazypeep show right around the corner," said an elderly woman, who was walking her dog on 5th Avenue, a few blocks away.
Carter agreed, while acknowledging the business probably could open if it lined up theproper licenses.
"If it's within the law, I don't think there's anything anybody can say about it," she said.
Lisa Pitt, director of the North Arundel Chamber of Commerce, was surprised to hear of theplanned peep show business.
"Wow, that's news to me," she said. Then she giggled and added: "Of course, I doubt they would call us up for a ribbon-cutting ceremony."