Ecker wants to limit more businesses Pawn shops, strip bars, fortune-tellers, tattoo parlors added to list

Existing shops not affected

Restrictions also sought for massage parlors and adult bookstores

October 22, 1997|By Craig Timberg | Craig Timberg,SUN STAFF

Howard County Executive Charles I. Ecker, already pushing for new restrictions against massage parlors and adult bookstores, has added pawn shops, tattoo parlors, striptease bars and fortune-tellers to the list of businesses he wants to restrict.

Ecker, a Republican, wants to limit these businesses to general business zoning districts, mostly along U.S. 40 in Ellicott City and the U.S. 1 corridor from Elkridge to Laurel. Existing businesses would not be affected.

Such restrictions are becoming increasingly common as suburban counties seek to limit the growth of businesses once found only in the downtown areas of major cities.

In planning jargon, such rules are called "Lulu's" -- Local Unwanted Land-Use regulations. But some county officials have their term for the recent package of Ecker initiatives, dubbing October "morality month."

"The ironic thing," said Councilman C. Vernon Gray, an east Columbia Democrat, "is it's always the Republicans who are always talking about getting government off the backs of the people."

Ecker could not be reached for comment yesterday. But Planning Director Joseph W. Rutter Jr. says the main focus of the proposal is pawn shops, which in many cases trade in stolen goods.

Police spokesman Sgt. Steven Keller said stolen property often turns up at pawn shops. "We'll find stolen property at pawn shops in Howard County that was stolen somewhere else," he said.

Most of Howard's neighbors have restrictions on the location and number of pawn shops, which could force them over the border into Howard, he said.

"Every other jurisdiction around us is regulating these," Rutter said. "We don't want to become the hole in the doughnut here with no regulations."

The proposal will go first to the Planning Board, then to the County Council, which can approve or reject zoning proposals.

If the proposal passes, striptease bars, adult movie houses and other adult entertainment businesses would be allowed in general business zoning districts. They include:

Several areas along U.S. 1.

Several areas along U.S. 40.

Snowden Square shopping center in east Columbia.

Business districts in Clarksville at Route 108 and Route 32.

The Long Gate shopping center on Route 103 in Ellicott City.

Scattered properties in Glenelg, West Friendship, Lisbon and Daisy also have the general business zoning designation.

The adult entertainment businesses would have to be 200 feet from residential areas and 2,500 feet from each other -- restrictions that might make some smaller general business zoning districts impractical for them.

Pawn shops, tattoo parlors, body-piercing shops and fortune-tellers would be restricted to the same areas, but only after approval by the Board of Appeals.

County officials say Howard has little problem with most of these businesses, but many suburban counties are expanding their zoning regulations to prepare for a possible influx.

Baltimore County planners are working on a similar package of zoning rules, said senior planner Hillorie Morrison. "Where central cities were doing this kind of zoning 20 years ago, now the suburbs are doing it," she said.

Howard County officials say they know of only one tattoo and body-piercing shop, on Ellicott City's historic Main Street.

The county has no adult movie houses or strip bars, although the opening of the Pack Shack -- which sells adult videos and books on U.S. 40 in Ellicott City -- has infuriated neighbors. On Monday, many urged the County Council to adopt zoning proposed by Ecker to close the Pack Shack.

Ecker also has pushed for restrictions on massage parlors, including prohibiting women who are not trained, certified massage therapists from giving massages to men.

But pawn shops are more common. State officials who license pawn shops and dealers of second-hand precious metals say seven such shops are in Howard. All but one are along the U.S. 1 or U.S. 40 commercial corridors.

Increased regulation of pawn shops can benefit the owners of existing shops, which would be exempt from the rules governing future competitors.

In Baltimore, which has long limited the number of pawn shops, licenses can be sold for tens of thousands of dollars, said Carl Pund, owner of Baltimore Coin and Jewelry Exchange on U.S. 40 in Ellicott City.

Pund moved his business from Baltimore four years ago and would welcome Ecker's restrictions. "It'll probably be better for us if it happens," he said.

Pub Date: 10/22/97

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