Proposed condom store pondered by zoning panel


Will the Rubber Tree grow in Fells Point?

That's the question before the city zoning board, which heard several hours of often emotional testimony yesterday on an appeal to overturn a permit for a proposed shop by that name that would specialize in the sale of condoms.

The Board of Municipal and Zoning Appeals decided early last night to continue its hearing Nov. 10, when it is expected to render its decision.

At issue is an appeal by several Fells Point residents and business owners, who are asking the five-member zoning board to overturn a permit granted in August by the city zoning administrator for the shop to be run Jeanne L. Brown, a 43-year-old mother of two teen-agers from Lutherville.

Proprieters in the waterfront area that is an entertainment mecca as well as a historic district said the Rubber Tree would sully the character of the community and make it difficult to attract families there. Many said they did not object to condoms, but said they were against a store devoted to their sale.

"It's not what a lot of the residents want," said Terry Paris, a seven-year Fells Point resident and owner of Bay & Country Crafts on Lancaster Street. "I think [Ms. Brown] should take her cause to Lutherville, where she lives. I'm sure people there need condoms."

Roland Phillips, co-owner of Brassworks on Thames Street, complained, "The more I hear about this, the more opposed I become. Of all the things I'd like to see down there, this wouldn't be one of them."

Ms. Brown, however, countered that the shop would provide a needed service, would be tastefully decorated and would have posters and T-shirts with safe sex messages that "are not pornographic."

"It's basically a gift shop that sells condoms and other related items," she said.

The concept of the store got "wholehearted support" from Irwin Rothenberg, administrator of education for the Health Education Resource Organization, an organization that provides information on AIDS.

"I can't stress strongly enough that a condom boutique is a step in the direction of slowing down the transmission of (AIDS)," Mr. Rothenberg said. "When we provide an atmosphere of non-stigmatization, more people will purchase the product."

Yesterday's hearing was marked by lengthy legal wrangling.

George L. Russell Jr., an attorney for the Rubber Tree, argued unsuccessfully that the zoning board should not even hear the case because the appeal was not filed within the 10-day filing period proscribed by law.

Richard Drury, who represented the Fells Point residents and business people, said the permit for the shop should be revoked because a "condom boutique" was not an allowable use under zoning laws. He said the City Council would have to amend the zoning and urban renewal laws before a permit for such a shop could be granted.

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