Fight to limit adult stores is resumed Change in zoning would restrict number and location of shops

Proximity to homes an issue

Video, booksellers would be kept to business-zoned land

September 24, 1997|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

With an attempt to restrict adult entertainment businesses to industrial parks apparently derailed by feuding communities, Howard County lawmakers are resuming their fight against the spread of sexually oriented stores.

Dennis R. Schrader, a North Laurel Republican, who chairs the County Council, is working with the Department of Planning and Zoning and the Office of Law on drafting an amendment to the zoning law.

His proposal would keep current restrictions that limit adult video and bookstores to land zoned for business, but force them to meet additional regulations designed to limit their numbers and their proximity to residential neighborhoods.

The new legislation would replace a proposal -- co-sponsored by Councilman Darrel E. Drown and County Executive Charles I. Ecker -- that called for limiting adult businesses to land zoned for manufacturing.

Although that concept pleased Ellicott City residents who had been protesting the April opening of the Pack Shack on U.S. 40, it was opposed by Elkridge residents who live along U.S. 1 because a vast majority of Howard's manufacturing land is near their communities.

"No one wants these kinds of businesses in their areas," said Kevin Doyle, who chairs the planning and zoning committee for the Elkridge Community Association, which opposed the original measure. "I think this new one is better. It's a much more equitable approach."

Drown said he is willing to support the new proposal.

"I don't want to have the perception of us trying to stuff something down the throats of people along Route 1," said Drown, a Republican, whose district includes Ellicott City. "We just want to make sure that these businesses don't congregate anywhere they want to."

The new proposal could also signal the end to Adult Video &

Books on U.S. 1 in Elkridge, one of two adult businesses in the county.

The shop has been operating in an M1 district for the past two years, although the county zoning code prohibits adult businesses from operating in M1 and M2 districts -- land zoned solely for manufacturing.

Joseph W. Rutter Jr., director of the county's Department of Planning and Zoning, said his office was not aware of the violation and acts only in response to complaints.

"We don't have enough people to go looking for these violations," Rutter said. "People in the community have known about that store for two years, but we haven't received a $H complaint."

An employee at the adult store declined to comment.

Ecker said he plans to ask zoning inspectors to review the store and, if necessary, shut it down.

'Will take steps'

"Now that we know about it, we will take steps," Ecker pledged, though Drown's original amendment -- backed by Ecker -- would have permitted the Elkridge store, and others like it, to operate in that area.

That legislation would have, among other restrictions, required sexually oriented businesses to be at least 400 feet from residences and at least 1,000 feet from another adult store.

The Planning Board two weeks ago recommended increasing those specifications, 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 churches, libraries and schools.

Schrader said the new proposal retains those restrictions, adding them to the current limitations that restrict adult businesses to land zoned for business, known as B1 and B2 districts, he said.

But the measure could run into legal problems because of the limited availability of B1- and B2-zoned land, Rutter said.

Less than 2 percent of the county's 160,000 acres is zoned B1 and B2, and separation requirements would reduce the percentage available for adult businesses further.

"My opinion is that it would probably be thrown out as being unconstitutional," Rutter said. "There would be virtually no sites that would meet that criteria."

Still, the proposal drew support from residents of the corridor along U.S. 1, where the bulk of the county's land zoned for manufacturing is located.

'Share the burden'

"I think what Dennis is saying is let's be realistic and fair," said Donna Thewes of North Laurel. "Let's share the burden and not have one area became the dumping ground for these things."

Added Leah Woodbury of Jessup: "If it's not going to consign them to Route 1, I like that better. But I don't want to throw something in another part of the county just to get rid of it from here."

Schrader said he is confident that distributing the businesses is a fair solution.

"The idea here is to keep them away from neighborhoods," Schrader said. "And I think we're moving towards a win-win situation."

Pub Date: 9/24/97

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