Differing plans aim at adult stores Residents torn between proposals to limit bookstores

'Let's not rush it'

Council also hears testimony on laws to corral massage parlors

October 21, 1997|By Craig Timberg | Craig Timberg,SUN STAFF

Residents of Elkridge and Ellicott City called on the Howard County Council to shut down shops selling adult books and videos, but they couldn't agree on how the council should do it.

"From my perspective as a single mother," said Connie Darlack of Ellicott City, "I appeal to this council to protect our children from the negative and debilitating harm of pornographic stores."

Several other residents made similar comments last night as the council had a public hearing on two proposals that would sharply limit the location of adult stores and force the closure of the Pack Shack, an adult store on U.S. 40.

But the residents appeared torn and in some cases confused because the proposals conflict with each other.

Support broke down roughly along geographic boundaries.

One version of the bill, proposed by County Executive Charles I. Ecker, would direct most adult businesses to the U.S. 1 corridor. That version was favored by Ellicott City residents.

The other version, proposed by Council Chairman Dennis R. Schrader and supported by three other council members, would allow fewer areas for shops on U.S. 1. But it would allow adult businesses closer to neighborhoods than Ecker's bill.

Schrader's bill would allow them within 200 feet of residential areas. Ecker's bill would not allow them closer than 400 feet.

Ellicott City resident Evan Odette lives in an apartment building just behind the Pack Shack.

"Do not pass this watered-down version," he said of Schrader's bill.

Kevin Doyle, an official with Elkridge Community Association, said Ecker's bill would encourage adult businesses in his neighborhood.

"I can't imagine anything that would be worse for the perception of our area, for it to be designated the adult entertainment area for Howard County," Doyle said.

Disagreements over the two bills ran so deep that some supporters of new restrictions suggested that Ecker and the council write a new bill.

"Let's not rush it," said Frank Goodridge Jr. of Men Against Pornography, which has protested at the Pack Shack. "I know these stores will close. The Lord answers prayers."

The only person who argued in favor of leaving the adult businesses unregulated was Kenneth A. Stevens of the Howard County Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

"We believe the Pack Shack established itself legally under the current regulations," Stevens said, "and the wares that it is trying to sell cause no harm and fall under the protection of the First Amendment's free speech clause."

It was an unusually emotional evening of testimony for the council, which typically dwells on matters such as zoning changes and sewer extensions.

In addition to the bill about adult businesses, the council also heard testimony about proposed regulations for massage parlors.

Police and administration officials have argued that many of the county's 13 massage parlors illegally sell sex acts as part of their business.

The council attempted to control the problem with regulations passed in 1994, but that law had a loophole that exempts all but three of the parlors in the county.

Police have had trouble enforcing those rules. Raids in 1995 yielded arrests of several masseuses, but the cases fell apart in the face of charges that police engaged in unnecessary sex acts while investigating the parlors.

The new law, if it passes, would close the loophole that exempted most county massage parlors. It also would prevent women who are not trained, certified massage therapists from massaging men.

Several lawyers for Howard massage parlors defended the businesses last night and suggested the proposed law would be unfair and unconstitutional.

Vince Guida, a Columbia lawyer representing two parlors that have county licenses, said training and certification would not prevent massage parlors from engaging in illegal sex acts.

"Schooling, education doesn't make someone moral," he said.

The adult businesses and massage parlor bills are due for votes next month.

Pub Date: 10/21/97

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