Planning Board delays action on adult bookstores

Church members ask that the law be made as restrictive as possible

May 13, 2004|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

The Howard County Planning Board delayed action last night on recommended changes to a law limiting adult bookstores after hearing impassioned pleas by members of Columbia Presbyterian Church to keep the measure as restrictive as possible.

More than 30 church members attended the hearing on proposed changes to the law, which was ruled unconstitutional recently by the Maryland Court of Appeals. Planning Board approval for changes is required before it can be redrawn as a County Council bill.

The Rev. Tim Flora, one of three church pastors, told board members that more than 20 congregation members have "a bondage of sexual addiction." Flora said the problem hurts families and children and damages the community.

Attempts to legally limit the location of adult bookstores such as Pack Shack on U.S. 40 near the Normandy Shopping Center backfired after the state's highest court declared Howard's law unconstitutional.

In March, Circuit Judge James B. Dudley ordered the county to pay Pack Shack's legal expenses - which could amount to nearly $200,000.

The county passed a law more than five years ago limiting adult bookstores to a few industrial and commercial zones, but the Court of Appeals said the law was so restrictive it violated Pack Shack's First Amendment rights.

Laws limiting stores' locations are permitted, but not if they place "excessive burdens" on the owners or provide too few places to do business, the court ruled.

The board decided to delay action to consider proposals from church members like Benjamin England of Columbia, who suggested including references to Internet-access pornography in the law.

England urged the board not to reduce the minimum distance between an adult bookstore and a residential zone from 500 feet to the 300 feet suggested by the county Office of Law, which also proposed reducing the minimum distance between adult bookstores from 2,500 feet to 1,000 feet.

Those recommendations would allow as many as 101 legal sites for such stores in Howard County, compared to the 23 sites the county claimed were available under the old law.

England argued that the Court of Appeals did not consider the definition of obscenity, which he said is not protected speech under the First Amendment.

New Colony Village

In another matter, the Planning Board approved revisions to a law that would allow the refinancing and sale of homes in New Colony Village, putting it on a fast track for County Council approval in June.

More than 150 residents of New Colony Village attended a County Council meeting May 3 to protest the bureaucratic mess that is preventing them from selling or refinancing their homes.

The U.S. 1 development was technically classified a mobile home project originally, meaning residents do not own the land under their homes.

When the first buyers later sought to refinance or sell, local banks would not provide financing - a problem the county sought to solve last year with legislation allowing for subdivision of the property into small, individual lots the residents could acquire.

But officials recently learned that some house lots are still too small by county standards, preventing some owners from using the intended remedy.

Business approved

The board also approved plans for a landscaping business dealing in wood chips and firewood on a 1.6-acre site in the 17500 block of Old Frederick Road in western Howard.

The board recommended a list of restrictions, however, after complaints by Frank and Deanne Pichini, who live across the street from the site and complained that large trucks awaken them early in the morning.

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