Judge upholds law limiting location of adult bookstores

Ellicott City business has until June 2 to close under court order

May 12, 2000|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

The Pack Shack adult book and video store on U.S. 40 in Ellicott City must close by noon June 2, Howard County Circuit Judge James B. Dudley has ruled.

The long-awaited decision upholds the county's zoning law limiting adult businesses to commercially zoned areas at least 500 feet from homes, churches, day care centers, schools, parks and public libraries, and no closer than 2,500 feet to another adult store.

Dudley ruled that the county law neither violates constitutional guarantees of free speech nor makes it impossible for such stores to operate, noting four to 12 locations in the county where such stores would be legal.

The county's version of the law "is a nationally recognized and approved method of minimizing the secondary effects of various kinds of adult-entertainment businesses," the judge said in his May 2 decision.

"Other than argument, there is nothing to prove that free speech is chilled or inhibited as alleged," he said.

Although a private detective hired by the store found adult material for sale in a variety of stores around the county, including several at The Mall in Columbia, "No one has ever complained about any of these stores ... and there is absolutely no evidence that these facilities generate the secondary effects the County Council sought to address," Dudley's decision states.

The council has said the stores help cause deterioration of residential communities and are a negative influence on children.

Assistant County Solicitor Louis P. Ruzzi, who helped argue the county's case in court, said, "I would hope this is the end. I think Judge Dudley did a fine job. He reached the right result."

An appeal would be "unproductive," Ruzzi added.

Howard J. Schulman, the store's attorney, was not available for comment yesterday. He has not appealed the ruling, court officials said.

Only an appeal and a stay of the ruling would stop the store from being forced to close, County Solicitor Barbara Cook said in a letter to the County Council members.

Barry Mehta, who owns the building the store occupies, said he is also eager to see the business leave, though there are two years left on the lease.

Mehta said he had no idea of the true nature of the business when he rented the building.

"I thought it was a bookstore," he said yesterday.

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