PORN SHOPS have been sore spots in Baltimore City and Baltimore County and, increasingly, farther out in suburbia. The most recent battle has been waged in Howard County, where pornography opponents have some reason to be encouraged.
The County Council's strict limitations on stores that specialize in X-rated fare will force existing establishments in Ellicott City and Elkridge out of business in a year. Both are too close to homes under the law, and there is no grandfather clause to protect them.
A year ago, pornography did not even appear on the radar screen of public issues in Howard, but it has been heavy in the headlines of late. Adult Video & Books had operated on U.S. 1 in Elkridge with little fanfare. But things changed quickly when the Pack Shack, an adult book and video store, opened on U.S. 40 with loud signs announcing its come-ons.
Protesters waged a campaign against the Pack Shack, picketing it and embarrassing customers by videotaping them. County Executive Charles I. Ecker and Councilman Darrel E. Drown drafted bills to regulate the businesses, but their proposal would have forced all such businesses into the U.S. 1 corridor, which did not please residents of that area.
The council adopted a compromise that scatters eligible sites. The measure prevents adult businesses from operating within 500 feet of homes, churches, schools and other family-oriented places and from operating within 2,500 feet of one another.
That leaves as eligible sites places like The Mall in Columbia, Chatham Mall in Ellicott City and Columbia's village centers. Whether the county government's strategy was intentional, its premise is intriguing: Isolate porn shops not along gritty industrial strips where they normally thrive, but into mainstream business areas, where finding space and building a clientele that prefers anonymity might be more challenging.
A celebration by Howard's pornography opponents would be premature. A challenge to the legality of this restrictive measure is all but certain to come. By whatever means the county government aims to deal with this matter, the right to sell legal material and the right to protest cannot be trampled in the process.
Pub Date: 12/12/97