Curbs near on Howard adult shops Book, video businesses would be kept away from residential areas

Council wary of legal snags

Members abandon effort to limit stores to a few zoning categories

November 12, 1997|By Craig Timberg | Craig Timberg,SUN STAFF

The Howard County Council is nearing a compromise that would allow adult book and video stores in most of the county's commercial areas, but no nearer than 400 feet to residential neighborhoods.

The council, fearing a legal challenge, has abandoned efforts to confine the shops to only a few zoning categories. Instead, it is crafting tougher restrictions on how close the shops can be to homes and to each other.

The debate now is mostly a balancing act as council members attempt to respond to community pressure even as county lawyers warn that the courts will throw out restrictions deemed too sharp.

"I'm willing to go as restrictive as you want," Republican Councilman Darrel E. Drown said at a council meeting this week, "but I don't want it thrown out of court."

The compromise would permit 149 possible sites for adult stores, including areas along U.S. 40 and U.S. 1, and in Clarksville, The Mall in Columbia and several office parks, according to an analysis by the county Department of Planning and Zoning.

The council has been wrestling with the issue since summer, when the Pack Shack, an adult shop, opened on U.S. 40, prompting protests from neighbors. A second adult shop, on U.S. 1 in Elkridge, has been open longer but has drawn few complaints.

Both shops would have to close or move under the compromise most council members favor.

The first effort to close the Pack Shack was a zoning bill that would have allowed adult shops only in industrial areas and some commercial ones. But residents along U.S. 1, where the shops could have concentrated, fought that plan, and it was killed.

"It would have created a kind of a red light district," said Council Chairman Dennis R. Schrader, a North Laurel Republican. He wrote an alternative that would spread the adult shops around the county's commercial areas.

That became the basis for the emerging compromise, which would allow adult shops in five zoning categories: local business, general business, shopping center, planned office research and planned employment center.

The shops would be allowed in equivalent areas in Columbia, which has its own zoning category.

The Elkridge Community Association, which led the fight to kill the original bill, would prefer that the new version not allow adult shops in planned office research and planned employment center zones.

"We would rather see them left out," said Kevin Doyle, an official with the association, "but we'll still take our chances with that version of the bill rather than the first version of the bill."

Debate now focuses on how far the shops must be from homes and from each other.

Most council members favor requiring that the shops be at least 2,500 feet from each other. That would mean a maximum of 25 adult shops in the county under the compromise.

A majority -- including Drown, Democratic Councilwoman Mary C. Lorsung and Republican Councilman Charles C. Feaga -- are leaning toward requiring the shops to be at least 400 feet from residential neighborhoods.

The Pack Shack on U.S. 40 is less than 200 feet from a neighborhood.

Schrader had not decided yesterday whether the minimum should be 300 feet or 400 feet. "Whichever one is most restrictive and allows us to win in court is the one I want," he said.

Allowing adult shops within 300 feet of residential neighborhoods would open 215 lots in the county to such establishments, but no more than 32 could open throughout the county because they would have to be 2,500 feet from each other.

Councilman C. Vernon Gray, an east Columbia Democrat, favors holding another public hearing on the matter. Since the first hearing Oct. 20, council members have added two zoning categories -- planned office research and planned employment center -- to the areas where adult shops would be allowed.

"People who are near those areas need to know," Gray said.

The council plans to debate the issue Nov. 24 and is likely to vote Dec. 1.

Pub Date: 11/12/97

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