Adult video law angers Halethorpe neighbors

Loophole will likely let store stay open

lawyer calls ordinance unconstitutional

August 17, 1999|By Dennis O'Brien | Dennis O'Brien,SUN STAFF

Neighbors of a Halethorpe video store are angry that a Baltimore County law -- intended to restrict adult video stores to heavy manufacturing districts -- is not likely to shut down the shop in their neighborhood.

South West Video, an adult video store in the 5600 block of Southwest Blvd., will probably not have to close because of a loophole that allows stores to remain in commercial districts if adult merchandise is a small percentage of their overall stock.

"This is so shocking. The intent of the law was to rid the county of these adult video stores, and they're still here," said Joseph Kinsey, president of the 400-member Halethorpe Improvement Association.

Kinsey said he and his neighbors learned in the past week that the law, passed unanimously by the County Council in January, will not force the store to close or move.

"I don't know how in God's name they can justify a store like this and not consider it adult entertainment," Kinsey said.

But Howard J. Schulman, the store's attorney, said the store should be permitted to remain in Halethorpe's commercial district. "We comply with the law," he said.

The ordinance

The law restricts adult video stores to heavy manufacturing districts. But it allows stores to remain in commercial districts -- including Halethorpe's business district -- if less than 20 percent of their space or stock is dedicated to adult materials.

The exemption means that few stores will have to close or move, county officials say.

"If they reduce the content of their X-rated materials they can stay," said Arnold Jablon, director of the Department of Permits and Development Management.

County zoning inspector Jeff Perlow cited South West Video's owners, Southwest Enterprises Inc., on June 3 for violating the law in its "operation of an adult entertainment business" in a commercial district, according to county files.

Hearing scheduled

The citation, which was issued six weeks after Perlow issued a first warning, says the store owner could be fined up to $400. County officials have scheduled a hearing, requested by Southwest Enterprises, for 9 a.m. today at the County Office Building in Towson to determine whether a fine is warranted.

Schulman said the store has restocked its inventory since the citation was issued, bringing it into compliance with the law. The store has 19,000 general items for sale, such as paperbacks, magazines and greeting cards, and 3,819 sexually explicit items, such as videos and books, he said.

The store is not the first to be targeted under the ordinance.

In March, county officials inspected the Love Ones on York Road and Movie Sales video store on Joppa Road, and both stores are complying with the law, said County Councilman Wayne M. Skinner, a Towson Republican.

"The law is being enforced," Skinner said. "It might not shut all of these places down, but it is being enforced."


But the law also has prompted five suits in U.S. District Court in Baltimore by store owners.

Schulman, who has filed three of the suits on behalf of Southwest and two other video store operators, said the law is unconstitutional and violates the store owners' rights to freedom of speech.

"It's, in effect, a law that regulates message, content and thought control," Schulman said.

County officials say the law was designed to pass constitutional muster when it was enacted in January.

No trial dates have been set in the suits.

Pub Date: 8/17/99

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