Loophole lets business sell adult videos Vendor operates at flea market in Elkridge

'One of those gray areas'

Community group will ask Office of Law for second opinion

December 24, 1997|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

Adult Video Liquidators seems to be just the type of store targeted by recent legislation passed by the Howard County Council designed to limit such businesses.

For one, it's in the wrong zoning district. And it's less than 500 feet from a church and a residential community. Both violate the zoning amendment passed by the County Council in November.

But, because it's in the middle of an Elkridge flea market, the business seems to have slipped through a loophole in the new regulations.

Officials from the Department of Planning and Zoning say they cannot close the adult video store because Flea Market World holds the lone business license for that location.

The county agency considers the flea market -- not the adult business or the 300 individual vendors -- as the commercial entity. Since flea markets are not prohibited in the zoning district, the adult business can operate there.

"We do not want to be in the censorship business," says planning and zoning director Joseph W. Rutter Jr. "Unfortunately, this is one of those gray areas that we have to be careful about."

Members of the Elkridge Community Association, however, say they plan to ask the county Office of Law for a second opinion.

"We are aware of the department's interpretation, but we're not happy with it," says Kevin Doyle, who chairs the planning and zoning committee for the civic group. "This is something that we're concerned about."

County Councilman Darrel E. Drown, whose district includes Elkridge, also says he disagrees with the department's opinion.

"Each person is an independent merchant and should be viewed as such," he says. "To me, their interpretation is incorrect."

Doyle argues that the legislation should apply to Adult Video Liquidators because the flea market is on land zoned for light manufacturing, known as M1, where adult businesses are prohibited.

He also points out that the video store is next to the Trinity Episcopal Church and across U.S. 1 from a residential area on Kit Kat Road.

"Plus, families go into flea markets," Doyle says. "We would rather not see it in there."

But Rutter contends that since Flea Market World has the only business license, the flea market is the primary commercial entity at that site and is permitted in M1 districts and near homes and churches.

He also notes that the flea market has many other vendors besides the adult store, which means that the sexually oriented material does not constitute a "significant or substantial" part of its business as required to come under the zoning restrictions.

"The problem that we have is, if a flea market has, say, 50 vendors and one is selling videos, is that a substantial portion of the overall business? I don't think so," Rutter says. "Who do we go after -- the owner of the property, the manager of the flea market or the guy selling videos?"

Adult Video Liquidators has been operating in Flea Market World for at least two years, according to John Rosenberger Jr., whose family has run the flea market since it opened five years ago.

Rosenberger, who says he doesn't know the owner of the adult business, says he has had few complaints about the video store. He notes that the front of the store is boarded by drywall and that the vendor regularly asks for identification from anyone who does not appear to be at least 18.

"I have a 10-year-old daughter, and I don't want her to see that stuff," Rosenberger says. "I'm not crazy about the idea, but he has done it tastefully and in a way that's not harming anybody."

Rosenberger says he is unsure what to do about the video store. "I didn't realize there was any big to-do about it," he says.

Last month, the County Council approved legislation restricting adult businesses -- including adult film theaters and adult live-entertainment clubs.

The bill, which will become law next month, limits adult stores to local business, general business, shopping center, planned employment center and planned office research zones and requires that they 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.

Two other adult stores in the county -- one in Ellicott City and one in Elkridge -- will have one year to move or close because of the amendment.

Doyle warned that allowing Adult Video Liquidators to operate ,, could set a dangerous precedent that would encourage similar businesses to move to flea markets and malls.

"If you put it in a larger building with other activities and say that that's not the primary purpose of the building, that may be the loophole for these businesses," Doyle says.

"That goes a long way to taking the teeth out of the legislation the county just passed."

Pub Date: 12/24/97

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