Adult store ordered to stop showing videos

An adult movie and accessory store in Halethorpe that has been the target of neighbor complaints and Baltimore County penalties for years was ordered by a judge on Monday to stop showing videos and to dismantle viewing booths.

Circuit Judge Dana M. Levitz's preliminary injunction ordered the Lovecraft store on Southwestern Boulevard to stop showing videos as of 5 p.m. Monday; it will soon have to remove the video booths.

"It's about time," said Mike McAuliffe, president of the Halethorpe Improvement Association, which has been complaining about the store since it opened in 1999. "I'm sick and tired of that dump in our neighborhood."

McAuliffe, one of two witnesses who testified for the county in the hearing, said after the proceedings that the neighbors did not object to the store on a "moral basis" but were concerned because the video booths attract "a clientele that are having sex with each other in a public place."

The county argued that showing the videos violated a zoning law adopted in the summer of 2010. Under that law, the store was not in the zone where showing sexually explicit videos is allowed within 500 feet of a residential neighborhood.

Howard J. Schulman, the lawyer representing the store owner, 5648 Southwestern Boulevard LLC, said he would appeal the judge's order to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals.

"Very few of these types of cases are won in the trial court level," he said. "We are dealing in an area of free speech and whether there can be prior restraint."

Schulman noted that this was the first time the Lovecraft complaints have reached the Circuit Court, and the first time that the 2010 zoning ordinance has been tested.

The case has been handled until now by the county hearing officer and the Board of Appeals. The store was shut down for about a week in 2010, and the video booths were removed around the same time under orders from the hearing officer.

In the fall of 2011, however, neighbors noticed through online message boards that the booths were open again, McAuliffe said.

Schulman said the owners have paid a fine of $50,800, but he did not know if they had paid another fine of $13,200, both of which were imposed by the county hearing officer.

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