County loses adult bookstore ruling Appeals court decision termed minor setback in zoning law challenge

November 18, 1998|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

The state's second-highest court dealt a blow yesterday to Anne Arundel County's seven-year effort to control adult bookstores through special zoning.

A three-judge panel of the Court of Special Appeals directed that the county's Board of Appeals hold a hearing on a challenge to the zoning law.

The appeals court's ruling has to do with whose case is presented first.

The court held that the county must present its case first at the hearing because it is trying to show that 2020C West, a bookstore in Parole that has peep shows, is an adult bookstore.

David A. Plymyer, deputy county attorney, called the appeals court decision a tactical loss.

The store, which officials think is the only one in the county with peep shows, will have the opportunity to see the county's evidence before presenting its side.

Plymyer called the ruling "a handicap to the county" but characterized it as a minor setback in the campaign against adult bookstores. The store in Parole has remained open for business during the legal battles.

"Somebody from the county made a determination that we were an adult bookstore," said Gerard P. Martin, attorney for 2020C. "We were entitled to know why they said that."

County laws passed in 1991 and 1995 restricted adult bookstores and adult video stores through licensing and zoning regulations. The regulations also required such stores to balance their stock with tamer material if they wanted to remain in certain areas.

The heart of of the legal cases -- what Martin characterized as attempts to "zone them into never-never land" -- is in litigation.

Zoning inspectors ruled that 2020C violated the laws, and the store owners appealed.

Who goes first?

When the case got to the Board of Appeals, lawyers for both sides argued about who had to present its case first.

The board ruled that 2020C had to go first, but the company's lawyers refused, the board dismissed the appeal, and 2020C went to court.

It was that issue that led the county to change its laws concerning zoning violations in 1995, Martin said.

Inspectors no longer issue such notices.

Enforcement techniques

Instead, they can issue an administrative order -- which can be challenged at the Board of Appeals -- or the county can sue the suspected violator and bypass the Board of Appeals.

Anne Arundel County's laws affecting adult bookstores are similar to those in Prince George's and other counties, which also are facing challenges from stores that don't want to move or stock tamer material.

Pub Date: 11/18/98

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