Howard Co. planners urge limits on adult bookstores Panel wants to restrict them to industry areas

September 11, 1997|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

In a decision that pitted communities against each other, the Howard County Planning Board last night unanimously recommended a zoning amendment that would limit adult video and bookstores to industrial parks and heavy business areas.

The legislation, which will be reviewed by the County Council next month for final approval, enraged residents who live in the U.S. 1 corridor. They say the measure would keep sexually oriented businesses out of high-brow Columbia and Ellicott City and drive them into the more blue-collar towns of Elkridge, Jessup and Savage.

"Obviously, we are not pleased with this decision one bit," said Kevin Doyle, who chairs the planning and zoning committee for the Elkridge Community Association. "This creates a very unequitable situation that will no doubt have very severe repercussions on our community."

But the recommendation satisfied Ellicott City residents whose discontent over the recent opening of a sexually oriented store in their area spurred the amendment.

"I think this is a step in the right direction," said Franklin V. Goodridge Jr., whose group, Men Against Pornography, has demonstrated outside Pack Shack since it opened on U.S. 40 in Ellicott City in April.

"I want us to remain united as a county to purge these types of businesses from the county," he said.

The amendment was drafted by County Executive Charles I. Ecker and County Councilman Darrel E. Drown, whose district includes Ellicott City and Elkridge.

The proposal would require anyone seeking to open a sexually oriented store to apply for a permit from the Department of Planning and Zoning. Such businesses also would have to be at least 400 feet from residences and at least 1,000 feet from another adult store.

But the Planning Board increased those restrictions, requiring businesses to be at least 600 feet from residential areas and 2,500 feet from another adult store. The board also added that such businesses would have to be at least 1,000 feet from places of assembly such as schools, libraries and churches.

2 adult stores in Howard

Pack Shack is one of two adult businesses in the county. The other is Adult Video & Books on U.S. 1 in Elkridge. The proposal would force Pack Shack to relocate, but it is unclear whether Adult Video & Books would be affected.

But a critical element of the amendment is its attempt to restrict such shops to land zoned either for general business, or for manufacturing zones that allow warehouses and factories.

If the amended legislation is passed, zoning officials have estimated that only 3.9 percent of the county's 160,000 acres would be zoned for the adult stores.

But residents of the U.S. 1 corridor point out that much of that available land is near their communities. And some contend that the proposal smacks of political favoritism.

"I think it reeks of elitism," Gary Prestianni of Jessup told the board. "It takes these stores out of Columbia and Ellicott City and puts them in our area."

Limits or 'unbridled growth'

But Ellicott City residents -- some of whom brought their children to last night's meeting -- argued that the county needs to contain the adult businesses to deter future shops.

"I have a place within walking distance of my home," said Tom Kashuba, treasurer of the Normandy Heights Improvement Association. "We either have to limit these places or allow unbridled growth."

Board members sympathetic

Although members of the board said they sympathized with Elkridge residents, they agreed that the 2,500-foot restriction between adult businesses should prevent a proliferation of such stores in their communities.

"The possibility of many stores opening in that area are remote," said board member Joan Lancos.

Drown said he was pleased by the board's recommendation.

"If we don't do anything now, these businesses could run up and down Route 1 tomorrow," Drown said. "The key for me is minimize that on a countywide basis."

While most Elkridge residents grumbled after the meeting about the board's action, Michael Russell, rector of Grace Episcopal Church in Elkridge, noted that the board could not alter the bill too much without weakening it to a point where it could be challenged in court.

"Given the constitutional test of these facilities, their recommendation is as hostile to the usage as it could be," Russell said. "I appreciate the bind that they're in to accommodate these facilities in spite of their desire not to do so."

Pub Date: 9/11/97

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