Adult stores among 3 issues to be revisited

Council also to address boundaries, animal control

Howard County

July 14, 2004|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

A trio of summer legislative reruns -- adult entertainment zoning, stronger animal control laws and a second attempt to move a General Plan boundary line -- will occupy the Howard County Council this month before its annual August hiatus.

A public hearing for the proposed legislation is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Monday in the council chambers in the George Howard Building, and a final legislative voting session is scheduled for July 23.

The adult entertainment bill is a second attempt to regulate the locations of businesses such as the Pack Shack, an adult bookstore on U.S. 40 in Ellicott City.

The Maryland Court of Appeals struck down a more restrictive law enacted five years ago. Because it provided for so few store locations, the law was deemed in violation of the Constitution's free speech guarantees. The county is liable for the Pack Shack's court costs, which could amount to $200,000.

Marsha McLaughlin, the county planning director, said the new bill would allow up to 101 locations around the county while keeping stores at least 1,000 feet apart and at least 300 feet from any residential zone, school or place of worship.

"We thought the first bill did the trick. Clearly, the courts didn't agree," said McLaughlin, noting that adult entertainment stores remain unregulated. "I think we're a little gun-shy this time. We want to make sure. We don't want to go through the same process and have a law struck down."

The County Council considered an animal control bill in October 2002 but put it aside because of objections that it had been too hastily presented.

Council Chairman Guy Guzzone, a North Laurel-Savage Democrat who sponsored the measure, said that because of the continuing threat of animal attacks, "it wasn't an issue I was willing to give up on."

Howard is trying to avoid legal challenges by not banning any specific breed, Guzzone said. "That's a huge legal quagmire," he said.

Prince George's County has banned pit bulls, but officials there are having second thoughts about the law.

The new version of the Howard bill provides for easier removal of animals considered dangerous or potentially dangerous, and it increases some fines for cruelty, neglect or for failure to control an animal found to be a threat to public safety. It would also ban leg-hold traps, which are considered cruel by animal-rights groups.

The bill would allow authorities to immediately remove animals considered dangerous, leaving to the animal's owner the burden of appealing to the county Animal Matters Hearing Board. Currently, the county can temporarily impound an animal pending an automatic board review, officials said.

Deborah Baracco, the county's animal control administrator, and police Capt. Merritt Bender, said the new law would make it easier to deal with animals causing problems.

"We have no power to enforce confinement requirements," Baracco said. The new law would remedy that by allowing the impoundment of animals not properly restrained.

The law "needed a general review. This hasn't been looked at for years," Bender said.

The proposed law would also increase fines for cruelty, neglect or possessing dangerous animals from $50 to $100 for the first offense and up to $500 for a third offense.

East Columbia Democrat David A. Rakes' planning bill is a corrected version of one he submitted in May but withdrew. It would move a planning district boundary south from the Columbia border to the Middle Patuxent River, a change that would allow homes to be built more quickly north of the river.

That would benefit the Pentecostal Church of God, which wants to sell for development 28 acres near the river and move its regional headquarters elsewhere in the county. Rakes hopes the church will move to Oakland Mills, in his district.

A proposed townhouse and office project at Route 32 and Cedar Lane also would benefit.

The boundary lines regulate how many buildings may be constructed in each of the county's five planning districts each year to help prevent congestion.

More than 400 housing allocations are available in Columbia, but none in the southeastern planning district, where both parcels are. Moving the line would make the Columbia allocations available for both projects.

Rakes faces formidable opposition from the county Planning Board and its staff, and from the Rouse Co.

Dennis Miller, Columbia's general manager and a Rouse vice president, said, "I've yet to see the justification for the lines being modified." Moving the line would destroy the predictability the system was supposed to create, he said.

"It sets a quite unfortunate precedent," Miller said. Rouse plans to build more than 2,000 more homes in Columbia, and moving the line would siphon off housing allocations.

Rakes said he is determined to proceed.

"It's something that seems right. I'm going to pursue it," he said.

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