X-rated parlor in the middle of lively battle Manager defends Armistead Gardens adult video store

August 01, 1993|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Staff Writer

It's not the exotic dance club advertised as a "House of Latin Fire" that bothers Denise Jeannetta. It's not even the prostitutes in skin-tight vinyl jeans who cruise the median strip a quarter-mile from her home.

But when a discount adult video store opened at the entrance to her East Baltimore neighborhood, Ms. Jeannetta decided it was time to fight back.

Her neighbors in Armistead Gardens, a tidy working-class community off Pulaski Highway and Erdman Avenue, also shuddered at the arrival of a shop specializing in sex, titillation and videotapes.

"Who knows what kind of people will be wandering in and out," said Ms. Jeannetta, 34, a mother of two. "Everyone here has kids. They don't need to be exposed to that bad element."

While she and hundreds of residents signed petitions last week calling for the X-rated video parlor to close, the manager defended it as a mainstream, legitimate business.

Regular customers already are shopping at the Adult Video Outlet, a brightly lighted shop that stocks 3,000 skin flicks and assorted pornographic magazines.

"We're operating completely within the parameters of the law," said manager Ron Muth. "Listen, this stretch of Pulaski Highway is zoned for everything except toxic waste."

In the week since it opened July 22, the store has kindled debate among city leaders over whether it would have been barred if new legislation had taken effect. The arguments come at a time when two neighboring counties are mired in litigation over attempts to regulate such businesses.

The Baltimore City Council approved a sweeping bill in June that would restrict adult bookstores and peep shows from opening in mixed residential and commercial areas. It also would require them to be licensed by the housing department.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke has yet to enact it. But he did sign into law a companion measure that limits strip clubs and sexually explicit bookstores to The Block. The downtown urban renewal area now has three years to phase out all adult entertainment outside the red-light district on East Baltimore Street.

City Councilman Anthony J. Ambridge, a 2nd District Democrat who chaired public hearings on The Block legislation, contends the outlet in Armistead would have been prohibited by the bill.

David Tanner, the city's zoning administrator, is not so sure.

"The pending legislation may have some impact when it goes into effect, but I don't know whether this falls under it," he said. "There's still a lot of work that needs to be done in setting up the licensing procedures."

He cautioned that the store could remain open even if the law were enacted immediately because there are no provisions to force out existing nonconforming businesses.

Attempts to drive adult bookstores from residential neighborhoods in Anne Arundel and Harford counties have proven difficult, time-consuming and expensive.

Anne Arundel lawmakers passed a bill in November 1991 requiring that X-rated stores move to heavy commercial or industrial zones after an outcry over a video parlor that opened on one of Glen Burnie's main business streets.

Scores of residents protested that it would herald a return to the days when an X-rated movie theater, adult bookstores and a strip joint flourished in their hometown. Arson fires damaged many of the businesses in the late 1970s and prompted an urban renewal effort in downtown Glen Burnie.

Legislation changes little

Civic leaders lobbied the council to pass legislation mandating that adult stores be licensed and preventing them from opening within 1,000 feet of a home, school, library or church. Harford County adopted similar legislation in May 1992.

Yet a year later, little has changed in either community.

Anne Arundel County has spent more than $100,000 fighting at least six legal challenges by the adult bookstores -- and no end is in sight. Harford County has dispatched two deputy attorneys to handle comparable battles in federal and state court.

"It's a fairly daunting experience to take these places on," said David Plymyer, Anne Arundel's deputy county attorney.

"One thing we've learned -- it's easier to keep these places out with a good law than get them out once they're in, even with the best of laws."

Attorneys for a bookstore with a peep show outside Annapolis argued in federal court that the law violated First Amendment rights. Now they're also appealing the licensing regulations in county Circuit Court with two other bookstore owners, Mr. Plymyer said.

In Harford County, a landlord fought for four years to evict an adult bookstore next to a trailer park.

The owners of U.S. Books at 3011 Pulaski Highway were ordered to leave in recent weeks -- a small victory in the county's battle to control adult bookstores.

Joseph Cassilly, the state's attorney in Harford County, is a strong supporter of the licensing provisions that include

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