Wrestling with pornography Zoning: After encouraging court opinion, Howard seeks to corral adult book stores.

September 22, 1997

A PROPOSAL to regulate adult book and video stores in Howard County is far from being approved, and even farther from withstanding an expected court challenge if it is.

But the county's planning board deserves praise for recommending a thoughtful approach to controlling the spread of a business that few people would want in their neighborhoods, while protecting First Amendment rights. The Howard County Council can improve the plan even more.

The adult bookstore business has been a regulatory thorn for a number of communities in Maryland. Harford and Prince George's counties wrestled for years in trying to strike a balance between the Constitution and public concern. A breakthrough came last December, when the state's second-highest court ruled that Anne Arundel County could use its zoning to restrict these establishments to certain areas. The county's target was an adult bookstore in Odenton it had fought since 1984.

In Howard, planning board members improved upon legislation that County Executive Charles I. Ecker and Councilman Darrel E. Drown proposed to deal with these businesses. The Ecker-Drown proposal had its shortcomings. It would have limited the stores to industrial parks and heavy business areas, placing an unfair burden on the U.S. 1 corridor in the Elkridge-Jessup-North Laurel area.

The planning board's recommendation will not make residents living along that corridor jump for joy, but it is an improvement.

The board would prevent adult stores from opening within 600 feet of residential areas or within 1,000 feet of schools, recreation areas, libraries and places of worship. These changes should create a strong buffer for those concerned about protecting children.

Board members also recommended that the County Council dilute the concentration of these establishments. It would prevent an adult store from setting up shop within 2,500 feet of another -- about a half-mile.

The council can, and should, do even better. It should prevent one store from locating within 5,000 feet of another. Such a plan allows these shops to exist, as they have a right to do, but helps to ensure that nothing like The Block in Baltimore will ever be replicated along U.S. 1.

Pub Date: 9/22/97

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