'Adult' video law unenforced since passage last year Glen Burnie neighbors are fuming

November 16, 1992|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,Staff Writer

Nearly a year after a law designed to force adult video and bookstores into out-of-the-way places took effect, none of the four operating in the county have moved because zoning officials have failed to enforce the law.

The law, which gave the stores a year to move, went into effect last Nov. 21.

Residents near a store in Glen Burnie thought sure their unwanted neighbor would be gone by Nov. 21 this year.

But county planning officials never sent the letters that would start the legal process of forcing the stores to move until last week, said Richard Josephson, zoning administrator.

"I think it was an oversight," Ardath Cade, director of Planning and Zoning, explained Thursday.

Now, the residents are fuming.

"I feel like I've been betrayed by my own county," complained Chuck Kiesling, whose family lives on Wilson Boulevard three doors away from the Glen Burnie store. "Somebody dropped the ball."

Although adult bookstores have operated in the county for years, the opening of the Glen Burnie store in a gray Cape Cod at Crain Highway and Wilson Boulevard in August 1991 outraged nearby residents, who lobbied the County Council for help.

"We felt that there were some businesses that were appropriate for a residential neighborhood and some that are not. This is not," said Deborah Brunetti, who led the fight against the store, which is a few blocks from her home and nearby Corkran Middle and Richard HenryLee Elementary schools.

The council adopted in November 1991 an ordinance that establishes licensing provisions for "adult arcades" -- commonly called peep shows.

The ordinance also includes zoning provisions that require stores that trade primarily in sexually explicit material to locate away from all residential and most business areas.

Video stores that house a small section of adult entertainment are not affected by the law.

Violators can be fined as much as $500 a day.

But the legal process can take more than a year.

And bookstore owners have challenged the law's constitutionality, further delaying county enforcement efforts.

David Plymyer, deputy county attorney, said the licensing provisions cannot be enforced until courts rule on their constitutionality, but zoning officials could start their enforcement process.

The issue is particularly sensitive in Glen Burnie, where a pTC generation ago the downtown area was on the verge of being overrun with adult bookstores, massage parlors and the like.

Mrs. Brunetti said her group will begin lobbying county officials to decide on a strategy to get the store near her, Glen Burnie News and Video, to relocate.

Councilman C. Edward Middlebrooks, a Democrat whose district includes Glen Burnie and who sponsored the legislation, met Thursday afternoon with County Executive Robert R. Neall and County Attorney Judson Garrett Jr.

"I've asked the office of law to look into this to see if there is any way we could move faster," he said. "Planning and Zoning dropped the ball. I'm kind of incensed that this has been missed."

The Glen Burnie shop is the only one of the four that borders a residential neighborhood.

And despite the obvious friction, residents say they have had few community problems stemming from the store -- other than the occasional teen-ager who tries to sneak in, or a customer who parks in front of their homes.

The operation's sister store, the recently remodeled Fort Meade News and Video Center Inc., is in the 1600 block of Route 175, Odenton.

Next door and behind it is the Red Carpet Inn, where former owner and current manager Ajay Gandhi found it hard to believe that the store would not be gone in a few days.

"The county has a lot of time to come over here and tell us we have to put up a fence, but they have no time to tell them they have to move?" he asked. "It hurts our business, it bothers us. The families, military people, they are a little bit hesitant to come in here."

A second store operates nearby in what once was known as the Boomtown Strip. Despite repeated requests for interviews by The Sun, by mail, telephone and visits, only a spokesman for one store responded. Burton Sander, attorney for 2020C West Street Inc., said the store, which takes its name from its address just outside the Annapolis City line, has no plans to move. That store is the only one that has challenged the law.

The cases are pending in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit and the Anne Arundel County Circuit Court.

Mr. Sander has argued that the licensing provision of the law violates First Amendment guarantees of free speech, because it effectively bans peep shows.

The law is "directed at the content of the material" and not the machine, he said.

Additionally, the zoning provisions are too restrictive, said Mr. Sander, who has tried adult bookstore and movie cases around the country.

Mr. Plymyer, however, maintained that the law is constitutional in every aspect, from the land use provisions to the way it defines the stores.

Even though it has not forced the stores to move, it has prevented the Glen Burnie store from installing peep show booths, he said.

Police say the peep shows create the most problems for them.

"We have found that the bulk of our complaints are where there are people viewing movies in back," said county Detective Lee Corbett.

Last summer, county police charged men with soliciting sex from other men in the parking lot of 2020C West Street.

Both sides agree that the fight is a long way from over.

"Frankly, it's not unusual for any of these cases to go three to five years," Mr. Plymyer said.

Adult video rentals "generate an enormous amount of cash," he said, providing the money for the stores to pursue appeals.

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