Zoning board rejects condom store permit Shop was to open in Fells Point

November 11, 1992|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,Staff Writer

The Baltimore zoning board last night rejected a proposal for a shop in Fells Point specializing in the sale of condoms.

The 4-1 vote by the Board of Municipal and Zoning Appeals overturns a decision by the city zoning administrator to grant a permit for the store. The store was bitterly opposed by dozens of Fells Point business owners and residents but applauded by health advocates. Last night's decision came after two days of often emotional public hearings.

Jeanne L. Brown, the proprietor of the proposed store, The Rubber Tree, sharply condemned the board for what she called a "Neanderthal decision."

"It's a sad, sad day for Baltimore. I can't believe that the thinking is so Victorian, I really can't," said Ms. Brown.

"It boggles my mind," she said, that the board would turn down her shop "in an area which has historically been a party area."

The 43-year-old Lutherville mother of two teen-age sons -- who had testified that her store would sell dozens of kinds of condoms as well as jewelry, lotions, T-shirts and other items -- said she was unsure whether she would appeal the zoning board's decision to Baltimore Circuit Court.

But Charles Norton, a Fells Point resident and businessman who helped spearhead opposition to the shop, applauded the board's action.

"The city has sent a message that there are things that are appropriate and inappropriate for different areas," Mr. Norton said.

Mr. Norton said the decision was particularly important in how people perceive Fells Point, which has several historically and architecturally significant buildings as well as a number of bars and nightclubs.

"It shows Fells Point is not a place where anything goes," he said.

Mr. Norton and other business owners and residents argued vigorously at a hearing two weeks ago and again yesterday that a shop devoted mostly to the sale of condoms would offend families and tourists who came to the waterfront area east of the Inner Harbor to see the tall ships or Christmas celebrations.

They also argued that a permit for the store should not be granted because a "condom boutique" was not an allowable use under city zoning laws. They claimed the zoning administrator improperly granted a permit for the store as a gift shop and said the city council would have to amend the zoning laws to specify in what areas, if any, a condom shop would be allowed to open.

Lalit Gadhia, chairman of the zoning board, endorsed that view in announcing his vote opposing the shop. Because the zoning code, which was adopted in 1971, does not envision condom shops, the city council should determine where such shops are permitted, Mr. Gadhia said.

"There's no question that the use proposed belongs somewhere in the city. The real issue is whether [Fells Point] is the district where this belongs," he said.

Mr. Gadhia also said he was aware of the positive "health care implications" of stores like The Rubber Tree but said a shop selling condoms was not a permitted use.

During yesterday's hearings, George L. Russell Jr., an attorney for The Rubber Tree, presented a letter from the owner of two condom stores in Philadelphia saying that those stores had benefited surrounding businesses. A similar store also operates in Washington.

Mr. Russell argued that the appeal of the zoning administrator's permit was invalid because it was not filed within the 10-day period proscribed by law. He added that because condoms were not illegal, opponents "cannot attempt to use this board to enforce their feelings regarding taste and appropriateness."

But Richard Drury, who represented community opponents of the store, countered by saying, "No one here opposes condoms . . . it's the issue of a condom shop."

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