Council amendment aimed at satisfying objection to law on adult bookstore

March 13, 1994|By Phyllis Brill | Phyllis Brill,Sun Staff Writer

The Harford County Council unanimously approved an amendment last week designed to clear up a constitutional objection in a 1992 law regulating adult bookstores.

Diane Swint, assistant county attorney, said the amendment was drafted in answer to an objection raised by Chief Judge Walter E. Black Jr. during a case involving an Aberdeen bookstore in U.S. District Court in Baltimore in August.

At that time, Judge Black ruled that the county's licensing law was constitutional except for a section that failed to set adequate time limits in the application process.

He feared that the existing language jeopardized the rights of store owners by allowing the county to indefinitely delay approving a license, Ms. Swint told the council.

The amendment forces the county Department of Inspections, Licenses and Permits to grant or deny a license for a bookstore operation within 45 days of application, regardless of whether all required inspections have been completed.

It also allows anyone who has been operating a bookstore continuously since July 10, 1992, when the law was enacted, to stay in business without a license while the application is being processed.

County law requires adult bookstores to undergo an inspection by the county Health Department and subjects store owners and employees to a police records check before an operating license can be granted.

In August 1992, Harford Circuit Judge William O. Carr granted a temporary injunction preventing the county from enforcing the law until its constitutionality had been tested.

In August, in a suit filed against the county by the owners of Highway Crafts, Gifts and Books of Aberdeen, Judge Black ruled that the county law was constitutional, except for the issue that has been addressed in the amendment.

That case was appealed to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, where arguments are expected to be heard this summer.

The county hopes the amended law will make its argument stronger.

"We fixed the only problems there were. Now we believe we have a totally constitutional bill to take to Richmond," said Ms. Swint.

In other business Tuesday, the County Council approved a petition to extend public sewer service to the Underwood Lane area near Hickory and an $88,200 transfer of appropriations to set up the project.

Seven properties in the area near Conowingo at Jarrettsville roads, including the Bel Air Church of the Nazarene, will be served by the project.

Property owners will pay about $2,700 each as a one-time connection charge. They also will be charged $1.03 per $100 of assessed value of their property annually for 20 years as a sewer-benefit assessment and $70 a year each as a user-benefit assessment.

Brent Thaxton, whose family owns Hickory International on Conowingo Road, told the council at a that the public service was critical to their business.

He said their septic fields were condemned in 1991 and since then they had been using holding tanks, which had to be pumped weekly,

James Jewell, county treasurer, said the project could begin by early summer.

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