Council debates Block licensing bill

February 25, 1993|By Holly Selby | Holly Selby,Staff Writer

The debate over regulation of Baltimore's fading red-light district continued last night at a City Council hearing on a bill to license establishments featuring nudity.

"It's a pretty straightforward bill," said Councilman Wilbur E. "Bill" Cunningham, a 3rd District Democrat. "One that both regulates adult entertainment and will help create a better business climate for the Block owners."

But owners of Block businesses weren't all that pleased. "It's a quick, mean and dirty way of trying to close down The Block," said Leonard Lichtenfeld, owner of the Tic-Toc club.

Constantine Prevas, a lawyer representing Block businesses, tossed a copy of the bill to the floor and said: "We'll knock that bill down the first day it comes up in court."

But downtown business owners and residents of South Baltimore neighborhoods came out to support the bill, which would keep adult entertainment businesses downtown, and out of residential communities.

Last spring, Mr. Cunningham sponsored and then withdrew a proposal that was opposed by South Baltimore residents and their council members who feared that businesses from the downtown red-light section would move into their neighborhoods.

The bill Mr. Cunningham backed last night would limit new adult entertainment establishments to the downtown business district and grandfather in existing businesses in outlying areas. Adult entertainment businesses would be defined as those displaying in person or on screen, total or partial nudity -- excluding films rated by the Motion Picture Association of America.

It would require the businesses to obtain an annual license from the city housing commissioner, and set up an adult entertainment commission or advisory board. It would also regulate signs, eliminating those that move or flash, and posters, photographs and painted or laminated materials.

Assistant City Solicitor Sandra Gutman said aspects of the bill needed to be changed before it could be passed, among them the restrictions on signs. She said the bill must state the reason for such restrictions.

She also said the bill grants too much power to the housing commissioner in the licensing procedure, calling on him to "investigate the character and qualifications of the applicant" who must be of "good moral character."

Ms. Gutman said she views this as "giving the commissioner unbridled discretion. There's no doubt in my mind that it would be struck down."

Instead, she said, the bill should stipulate that reviews would be based on the criminal history of an applicant, and whether the applicant had committed crimes related to adult entertainment.

Committee chairman Anthony J. Ambridge, D-2nd, who asked both sides to submit amendments to the bill within 14 days, said a compromise could be reached. "Our intention is to have the coexistence of the office community and the Block businesses as well as protect the communities," he said.

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