Adult-oriented store eludes Howard law

Adding nonsexual materials puts Lovecraft below legislation's threshold

March 08, 2010|By Larry Carson | larry.carson@baltsun.com

Another purveyor of adult magazines, videos, lingerie and sexual aids has bested Howard County zoning authorities, rendering a law meant to push the stores away from prominent locations near residential neighborhoods virtually meaningless.

A zoning violation case against the Lovecraft adult store in the median of U.S. 1 in North Laurel fell apart last week when two county inspectors found the place stuffed with enough nonsexual material to evade the legal definition of an "adult" store. The better-known Pack Shack store on U.S. 40 in Ellicott City defeated the same law in August 2008 by using the same tactic.

That means Howard's law, enacted in 1997 after members of several Ellicott City churches began picketing the Pack Shack, now regulates neither of the two most prominent adult book and video stores in the county.

Even for those ambivalent about the sale of sexually oriented material, the image presented by the two ramshackle-looking stores is distressing.

"I hope one day we can attract nicer businesses," said Donna Thewes, a veteran community activist in North Laurel. "Nobody wants to be associated with a lot of the businesses on Route 1," which she said attract a "lower-class clientele."

Howard County has spent the past decade encouraging an upscale redevelopment of the old commercial corridor, with some success until the recession hit.

Lovecraft, with its papered-over windows, closed-door viewing booths and big sign, "You must be 18 to enter," on the front door, sits in a small shopping center where a pawn shop is the other major tenant.

Steve Rolls, one of two county zoning inspectors who spent much of Tuesday counting and categorizing the contents of the Lovecraft store, said there were 1,601 DVDs, 354 VHS tapes and 3,278 paperbacks - for sale three for a dollar - that were nonsexual in content.

Under county law, a store is considered adult and thus regulated if at least 20 percent of the inventory consists of sexually explicit items. The nonsexual items at Lovecraft reduced that percentage under the 20 percent threshold, Rolls said.

"Since they don't meet the definition, these guidelines don't apply to them," Rolls said. That was the judgment for Pack Shack, too.

The hearing on the case, scheduled for today, has been canceled.

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