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Court upholds the right to zone adult businesses Anne Arundel County limits them to 2 areas


A state appeals court upheld Anne Arundel County's authority to regulate adult film arcades and bookstores yesterday, ruling that constitutional guarantees of free speech do not prohibit jurisdictions from zoning the businesses out of certain neighborhoods.

The Court of Special Appeals ruled that the Annapolis Road Limited adult bookstore and video arcade in Odenton must close its adult film arcade or move where such arcades are permitted.

The court said the county was within its authority in 1991 when it passed an ordinance restricting adult film arcades and bookstores to commercial strips along highways, known as C4 districts, and heavy industrial areas, W3s.

"The facility is not located in a C4 or W3 zone and, for that reason, was operating unlawfully," Judge Alan M. Wilner wrote for a three-judge panel.

County officials said yesterday that the ruling should help them monitor adult bookstores.

"It's excellent news, excellent news for the county's ability to make zoning regulations," said Deputy County Attorney David Plymyer.

The decision affirmed a ruling June 7, 1995, by then-Circuit Judge Warren B. Duckett Jr., who ordered Annapolis Road Limited to close its arcade.

The county was not able to seek the closing of the store's adult books section because it was only a small portion of the total operation, Plymyer said.

Lawyers for shop owners Jack and Brindel Gresser appealed Duckett's ruling, arguing that federal courts last year struck down similar ordinances in Harford and Prince George's counties that required licenses for adult bookstores and arcades.

But the appeals court said yesterday that even if licensing requirements are illegal, the county has authority under its zoning powers to exclude such operations from certain neighborhoods.

"The intent to limit the location of these operations to heavy commercial and industrial areas and keep them out of areas more likely to be frequented by children and the general population is not dependent on or significantly intertwined with the intent to license them," Wilner wrote in a published, 34-page decision.

William E. Seekford, a lawyer for Annapolis Road Limited, said yesterday he would have to discuss the ruling with the Gressers before they decide whether to close the arcade, search for another location or seek a reversal from the Court of Appeals.

"It sounds like the court just took the easy way out, which is what you'd expect," Seekford said.

Plymyer said that the decision could help the county in its battle with adult bookstore owners.

"What we may be able to do is take this decision and ratchet up our enforcement efforts," he said.

The Odenton shop, which has been battling the county since 1984, is one of two adult bookstore operations that have been the target of county enforcement efforts.

The operators of 2020 News, an adult bookstore with a film arcade in the 2000 block of West St., outside Annapolis, were cited for zoning violations and ordered to close in 1992.

The shop owners filed a series of appeals and won a 1995 ruling from the Court of Special Appeals that entitled them to a hearing before the county Board of Appeals. The board dismissed the appeal.

Plymyer said the county should be able to use yesterday's decision to support its case if 2020 News appeals that dismissal to Anne Arundel Circuit Court.

Pub Date: 12/27/96

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