Why porn in Elkridge? Why anywhere at all?


September 21, 1997|By NORRIS WEST

THE PACK SHACK isn't the only obscene thing in Ellicott City these days. Also offensive was the thoughtless arrogance of a few Ellicott City residents who seemed to have no problem with shipping their pornography troubles to the U.S. 1 corridor.

Ellicott City residents have gained countywide sympathy for their battle against the Pack Shack, which sticks out on U.S. 40 like a stubborn wart.

Their neighbors realize that no one would want this little shop of carnality close to home. My guess is that even customers would rather have these stores anywhere but in their own backyards.

Predictably, Ellicott City residents went to their representative on the Howard County Council hoping to legislate the Pack Shack out of business.

I have no problem with that.

What bothers me is that these NIMBYs have complete disregard for their neighbors to the southeast. While trying to purge smut from their community, some of those testifying at a planning board meeting didn't seem to mind shipping their pornography problems to their poorer cousins in Elkridge.

Their cavalier behavior is like that of privileged jurisdictions that send solid or hazardous wastes to underprivileged communities. At least the recipients of that form of trash usually get paid for their troubles.

Ellicott City certainly fits the definition of a privileged community, despite its pockets of poverty and blue-collar families. Try buying a single-family detached home there for less than $250,000, and you'll find slim pickings.

Addressing the concerns of their constituents, Councilman Darrel E. Drown and County Executive Charles I. Ecker drafted a bill to minimize the number of adult businesses that could exist in Howard County.

The planning board meeting on three versions of the proposal drew witnesses from Ellicott City and Elkridge. All of the versions would practically ban adult businesses almost everywhere in Howard besides the U.S. 1 corridor.

The single-minded aim of Ellicott City residents was to ensure that adult businesses would be banned from their community. Some failed to follow the diplomatic lead of Councilman Drown, not normally known for diplomacy.

The plan would restrict businesses to districts zoned for heavy ,, industry, which, unfortunately for residents in the Elkridge-Jessup-North Laurel corridor, is their neighborhood.

"If I were king, I wouldn't have this anywhere in Howard County," Mr. Drown told planning board members. "Nobody deserves this in their neighborhood."

He represents a small part of the U.S. 1 corridor, which might explain why he sounded apologetic to Elkridge residents. He told the board that he and county lawyers had no other way to control the potential sprawl of adult businesses.

Not-so-pretty in pink

But some Ellicott City residents who spoke in support of the plan showed no concern for any effect on Elkridge. Three maps on the wall had blotches of pink that designated where adult stores would be allowed. Except for a few dots here and there, only the U.S. 1 area was covered in pink.

Yet, one Ellicott City man had the unfettered audacity to try to convince Elkridge residents that "this is a fine plan." Planning Board Chairman Theodore Mariani had to make this fellow aware of his thoughtless condescension.

I doubt that the Ellicott City residents who testified at the hearing represent the attitudes of everyone in the community. I would like to think that most of them, even if they are angry about the Pack Shack and supportive of the Drown-Ecker proposal, have more consideration for their neighbors.

Later, Jessup's Gary Prestiani spoke for the U.S. 1 corridor when he said proponents of the plan wanted to push pornography "out of the important areas and into the lesser areas."

Porn zoning needed at all?

The Ellicott City residents probably had tuned out Elkridge resident Kevin Doyle, when he pleaded with planning board members to come up with a more "equitable" plan. Another alternative, he insisted, was to do nothing. He makes a point. There is no sign that pornography is proliferating in Howard County. Is legislation needed at all?

Pornography was not an issue in Howard until the Pack Shack came along, although there already was an adult book and video store in Elkridge. And some family video stores have operated quietly and without protest although they have adult rooms for X-rated fare.

The planning board approved the plan after tacking on an amendment that moves the matter in the right direction. The U.S. 1 corridor still would bear the brunt of adult businesses, but these establishments would have to be dispersed. This matter will come up again, before the County Council.

In the meantime, a few Ellicott City residents should spend time drafting another plan -- a good neighbor policy.

Norris West is The Sun's editorial writer in Howard County.

Pub Date: 9/21/97

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