Adult-business dispute goes to court Monday

Deputy solicitor wants board's Aug. 27 decision closing store upheld

February 25, 1999|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

Monday is the day.

After 10 months of fencing with legal briefs, Deputy Howard County Solicitor Paul Johnson and lawyer Howard J. Schulman will meet face to face in court for the first time as opponents in the zoning battle over sexually oriented businesses.

Schulman represents Nathaniel Lightfoot Inc. -- better known by its trading name, Adult Video & Books -- and its business selling sexually explicit magazines and videos on U.S. 1 in Elkridge.

Johnson wants a ruling from the Howard Circuit Court upholding an Aug. 27 county Board of Appeals decision ordering the adult magazine and video store to close. The board had sided with county officials in determining that the store was a retail establishment, operating since 1994 in a heavy manufacturing district where retail businesses are prohibited.

Schulman said in an interview yesterday that the county is setting itself up for a costly lawsuit by pursuing the closure of the adult business -- one of two in Howard. "The store will be irreparably damaged" if it is forced to close, Schulman said. "If the county is wrong, they will have to pay the price."

Monday's hearing will focus on Schulman's motion to prevent the county from shutting down Adult Video & Books.

Although the county zoning code prohibits retail businesses in M2 -- heavy manufacturing -- zones, county inspectors had not issued a violation notice until April 8, when a complaint was filed by an unidentified person or organization.

Schulman questioned the hurried attitude of county officials to close his client's operation. "The store has been there for five years," he said. "I don't know what the hurry is, except that they're trying to silence the message."

No hearing date has been set on the county's motion in Circuit Court to close the other adult business, the Pack Shack on U.S. 40 in Ellicott City.

That store, also represented by Schulman, has been found in violation of a county ordinance requiring adult businesses to be at least 500 feet from residential communities, churches, day care centers, libraries, parks and schools, and at least 2,500 feet from any other sexually oriented store.

The Pack Shack is less than 500 feet from the Normandy Woods apartment complex.

Schulman has argued that the statute is unconstitutional and chills the store's right to free speech.

Pub Date: 2/25/99

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