Adult stores are still targeted Legislation not enough for some residents

2 outlets may close

December 04, 1997|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

Newly passed legislation may force the two adult entertainment businesses in Howard County to close for good, but the crusade against similar stores is far from over, vow area residents.

"I think most of us have such a stake in our homes that we can't afford to sit back," said Barbara Sieg, an organizer of the Howard County Alliance to Maintain Community Values. "Now is the time to act."

Residents from Ellicott City and Elkridge -- communities that contain areas where the legislation allows adult stores -- are organizing to keep the stores out.

Several members of the alliance, for example, are considering forming a civic group of residents and merchants along the U.S. 40 corridor.

The Elkridge Community Association may back that effort with a letter-writing campaign to urge property owners to refuse to rent space to adult businesses.

"We want to take a pro-active stance," said Kevin Doyle, who chairs the planning and zoning committee for the Elkridge group. "There is no zoning police. It's up to the community to police in our own area."

Opponents have allies in many of the shopping centers where the stores would be legal but whose owners say they will not allow such businesses.

The first fight likely will take place in court.

With the new restrictions, adult businesses would be permitted on less than 1 percent of county land. County lawyers had warned council members that anything less than 3 percent might not withstand a court challenge claiming a restriction on freedom of speech.

"When a government acts in an unconscionable and unconstitutional manner, legal action is always a consideration," said Baltimore lawyer Howard J. Schulman.

Schulman is an attorney for the Pack Shack, the adult video and magazine store that started this storm when it opened in April on U.S. 40 in front of an apartment complex.

Adult Video & Books, the county's other sex-oriented business, has been open for about two years on U.S. 1 in Elkridge, where it received little notice.

New restrictions approved

Months of wrangling over how to prevent more adult stores from opening ended Monday night when the County Council approved a bill to restrict adult businesses -- including adult film theaters and adult live-entertain- ment clubs.

The bill, which will become law in two months, limits adult stores to local business, general business, shopping center, planned employment center and planned office research zones.

The stores would also be allowed in similar districts in Columbia.

The legislation requires that adult businesses be at least 500 feet from residential areas, churches, day care centers, schools, parks and public libraries, and at least 2,500 feet from another adult store.

The Pack Shack will have one year to move or close because it is less than 500 feet from the apartment complex.

Adult Video & Books also will have to move or close because it operates in a manufacturing district, where adult businesses are prohibited.

Employees at both stores declined to comment.

The county has 111 properties that meet the zoning requirements and are 500 feet from residential areas.

The additional restrictions -- 500 feet from schools and parks and feet from other adult stores -- reduces that total to 23 locations scattered throughout the county.

Shopping centers to say 'no'

Several managers of area shopping centers that could permit adult businesses said they would not sign a lease with such a store.

"This shopping center would not entertain that kind of beast," said Ted Campbell, property manager for the Normandy Shopping Center in Ellicott City. "That tarnishes the rest of the businesses in the center."

Jay Winer, general partner of Savage Mill Limited Partnership, which owns Savage Mill, agreed.

"We would not have that business," he said. "First and foremost, that doesn't fit with the presentation and mix of stores we have there."

Alton J. Scavo, senior vice president of the Rouse Co., which manages Columbia, said covenants ban adult book shops from opening in Columbia's eight village centers.

He also said that the Rouse Co. has actively opposed such stores, noting that the company terminated the lease of a video store at The Mall in Columbia several years ago after the mall's manager learned that the store was renting adult videos.

At Chatham Mall on U.S. 40, several leases include provisions that prohibit adult stores from operating there, said Natalie Swirdovich, manager and marketing director for Chatham Mall.

"Whenever a tenant comes to us, we look at the big picture and ask ourselves, 'Will this make the mall better?' " she said. "Certainly, that [an adult business] would not."

Legal precedent

According to Jan LaRue, senior counsel for the National Law Center for Children and Families, a nonprofit organization based in California, a legal precedent would protect the county and its legislation if adult stores can't do business in the county because commercial-property owners want to keep them out.

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