Limits asked on disputed business Balto. Co. seeks to end fight over tattoo shops, other such operations

Risk to older areas seen

One targeted owner says effort might send outlets 'underground'

October 27, 1997|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Stung by recent neighborhood battles over tattoo parlors and methadone clinics, Baltimore County officials want a comprehensive new zoning policy to keep those businesses -- and adult video and bookstores -- out of older commercial strips and residential areas.

A sweeping approach makes more sense than piecemeal regulation, said Michael H. Davis, spokesman and policy chief for County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger: "Why trickle these things out?"

He and other officials fear that such businesses will undermine the county's campaign to strengthen older neighborhoods by promoting homeownership. "If you're looking for a house, you look at the kinds of stores that are nearby," Davis said.

Baltimore County's sweeping strategy mirrors an effort in Howard County to restrict massage parlors, adult bookstores, pawnshops, tattoo parlors, strip bars and fortune-tellers to a few designated business zones.

But the tougher task may be deciding where such businesses should go.

Baltimore County zoning laws make no specific reference to the controversial businesses, creating a gray area that has provoked long legal battles.

County officials have rejected a suggestion by county planners that tattoo parlors be allowed in most business zones after TC public hearing. "We want to be more restrictive," said Davis.

And a move to cluster such businesses in industrial zones is likely to cause protests about using up economically valuable land.

"As a general rule, we have taken great pains to preserve the integrity of manufacturing-zoned property for job-producing uses," said Robert L. Hannon, county economic development director.

Some citizen activists, though, insist that a comprehensive policy is needed to stabilize older communities. They say such businesses can eat away at a neighborhood's appeal.

"The cumulative effect is a degradation of the community," said Ella White Campbell, president of the Stevenswood Improvement Association, who has fought pawnshops, tattoo parlors, nude dance clubs and a proposed methadone clinic along Liberty Road in Randallstown.

If the clinic had opened, she said, "I don't care how hard we worked, we could not stop people from moving out for fear of their lives. You can't blame people."

Court fight

Caught in the middle are such people as Bruce Benkert, owner of Mr. B's Tattoos in the 7500 block of Belair Road. He's operating his business without zoning approval while fighting in court to stay open.

"All it is is discrimination," said Benkert. "They're going to push tattoo parlors underground, and then they'll really have problems."

And Benkert's attorney, John A. Austin, said that further restricting the parlors goes against zoning theory, which is intended to allow similar businesses, such as hair and nail salons and tattoo parlors, in the same zones.

In recent months, county officials have endured a number of controversies on the issue.

This month, a zoning official rejected plans for a methadone clinic in rural Loreley, near the Harford County line, after residents charged that it would draw crime to the area.

In a similar dispute, Ruppersberger has opposed locating a clinic in Catonsville and extracted a promise from state officials to withhold a permit for it until the county completes a review of zoning.

Several tattoo parlors, including one in Randallstown, are operating under a zoning loophole as "residential art salons." Though that loophole has been removed, zoning laws are "archaic principles," county Planning Director Arnold F. "Pat" Keller said.

'Starting to get calls'

And while adult book and video stores haven't been controversial for years in Baltimore County, local officials say they can hurt the campaign to strengthen older neighborhoods.

"I'm starting to get calls about them," said Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, a Perry Hall Democrat.

Faced with protests on so many fronts, several County Council members -- including Chairman Joseph Bartenfelder, a Fullerton Democrat -- appear to favor a comprehensive zoning approach for such businesses.

"They're not really related, but they all need to be addressed," Bartenfelder said, noting that he recently had complaints about a video store in his district, too.

Report expected in January

Senior Planner Hillorie S. Morrison said that by January, she expects to finish a report on regulating methadone clinics, tattoo parlors and adult video and bookstores.

Gardina, several other council members and Del. Dan K. Morhaim, an Owings Mills Democrat and an emergency room physician, have suggested locating methadone clinics at hospitals. Gardina thinks the other controversial businesses could be restricted to industrial areas or perhaps one business zone.

Councilman Kevin Kamenetz, a Pikesville-Randallstown Democrat, wants them kept prescribed distances from homes, schools and churches.

Whatever the politicians produce, tattoo parlor attorney Michael P. Tanczyn thinks he knows how it will end.

"The difference between politics and law can be like the U.S. and England -- there's an ocean in between," he said. "The courts will decide."

Pub Date: 10/27/97

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