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Law curbing adult stores set to kick in; Area's activists eagerly awaiting tomorrow's deadline; 'God has been faithful'; But Pack Shack to keep operating, its attorney says


The doors to the private booths were yawningly open, awaiting customers yesterday afternoon at the Pack Shack, one of Howard County's two adult businesses. But after tomorrow, the Ellicott City store's magazines and its videos -- such as "Sleazy Rider" -- may be illegal.

Fourteen months after the County Council passed Howard's first ordinance restricting the location of sexually oriented stores, the law officially kicks in Thursday. Area activists are happily counting down the days.

"A lot of people have been driving up Route 40 and wondering when that store is going to go away," said Franklin V. Goodridge Jr., founder of Men Against Pornography, which led the fight against the Pack Shack. "God has been faithful, and we know that it's going to happen."

But a Baltimore attorney representing the Pack Shack said the store owners plan to continue operating, even after tomorrow's deadline.

And it appeared yesterday that it was business as usual at the Pack Shack, where a large orange sign in the front window advertised "HELP NEEDED."

"Any move by the county to enforce the ordinance against the Pack Shack is unconstitutional," lawyer Howard J. Schulman said. "Whatever they're going to do, we'll counter. We'll counter with the First Amendment."

County officials have outlined a plan to enforce the statute quickly.

Deputy County Solicitor Paul Johnson said he intends to file a motion for an injunction Thursday morning in Howard County Circuit Court if the Pack Shack, which opened on U.S. 40 in April 1997, is still operating.

"We'll wait and see what the situation is over there," Johnson said. "But we will take steps to enforce the law."

The law, adopted in December 1997, confines adult entertainment businesses -- including bookstores, movie theaters and live entertainment clubs -- to general business areas, known as B1 and B2 zones.

The statute also requires such businesses to be at least 500 feet from residential communities, churches, day care centers, libraries, parks and schools, and at least 2,500 feet from any other sexually oriented store.

Because the Pack Shack -- which also sells comic books and greeting cards in the front of the store -- is less than 500 feet from the Normandy Woods apartment complex, the store must relocate or close, according to Johnson.

But Schulman argued that the ordinance should not apply to the Pack Shack.

"I think constitutional law is quite clear in that one does not have to submit to an unconstitutional ordinance," Schulman said. "It's our contention that the whole purpose of the ordinance was to close all adult businesses from Howard County."

Although Johnson pointed out that the distance and zoning restrictions leave 23 possible sites in the county for sexually oriented stores, he said he expects the Pack Shack to fight any attempt to shut it down.

"I would be surprised if they weren't operating," Johnson said. "They haven't given any indication that they won't."

Former County Councilman Darrel E. Drown, a primary backer of the statute, accused the Pack Shack of stalling.

"We didn't kick them out right away," he said. "The way the law was crafted was to give them time to get out of the residential neighborhood. Now it's time for them to pack up and move out."

Barbara Sieg, an organizer of the Howard County Alliance to Maintain Community Values, said she can't wait for the deadline. "I think that if we have good laws, we should be ready to enforce them. I'm all in favor of Howard County taking that action."

The county's other adult business, Adult Video & Books on U.S. 1 in Elkridge, is also in violation of the county code, which prohibits retail establishments from operating in manufacturing or industrial districts, known as M1 or M2 zones.

In August, the county Board of Appeals ruled that Adult Video & Books has been illegally operating in an M2 district for the past five years and ordered the store to shut down. Johnson said he intends to seek an injunction against the store by week's end.

David Goldberg, an attorney representing the adult store, said his clients have appealed the decision to the Circuit Court and are awaiting a hearing date.

Schulman, who also represents Adult Video & Books, added that he has asked Chief Judge J. Frederick Motz of U.S. District Court in Baltimore to reconsider his August ruling that the store could not challenge the county ordinance. Motz had said that the store does not have standing to sue because it was already in the wrong zoning district when the law was adopted.

Pub Date: 2/02/99

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