County moves to close sex shop; U.S. 40 store target of shutdown request filed in circuit court


Howard County officials went to court yesterday to shut down an adult magazine and video store in Ellicott City that they accuse of violating an ordinance restricting the placement of sexually oriented businesses.

Deputy County Solicitor Paul Johnson, who filed the request in Howard County Circuit Court, said the Pack Shack in the 8400 block of Baltimore National Pike has had a year to relocate or close permanently.

He said the store has been illegally operating since Wednesday, when the ordinance took effect.

Although a judge has not been assigned to review the motion, Johnson said county officials believe the courts will uphold the ordinance.

"We're confident that we will be successful," Johnson said.

It's unclear how long it will take to resolve the legal battle. The motion arrived six days after an attorney for Pack Shack Inc. asked the Circuit Court to block the county from forcing the store to close.

"All they're saying is that we're wrong about [the law] being unconstitutional," said Howard J. Schulman. "We're saying that it is unconstitutional."

The ordinance, passed by the county in December 1997, limits adult entertainment businesses -- adult bookstores, movie theaters and live entertainment clubs -- to general business districts, known as B1 and B2 zones.

The statute also requires sexually oriented stores to be at least 500 feet from residential neighborhoods, parks, schools, libraries, day care centers and churches and at least 2,500 feet from another adult business.

Because the Pack Shack is less than 500 feet from the Normandy Woods apartment complex, the store was given one year to relocate or close.

The law does not affect the county's other adult business, Adult Video & Books on U.S. 1 in Elkridge. That store has been operating for more than five years in a zoning district that does not allow retail establishments. County efforts to evict that business have been delayed since August, pending the store's appeal.

Although the Howard County ordinance mirrors that of similar laws in Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Harford and Prince George's counties, Schulman said the statute infringes on his client's First Amendment right to free speech.

"I think that the legislative record is going to reflect that this is a consequence of a protest group's effort to silence speech," he said. "I also don't think that there is any other place to relocate in Howard County."

But county officials have contended that there are 23 possible sites in the county for adult businesses, and Johnson said the ordinance does not ban the stores from Howard County.

"It's not a content regulation," he said. "It's a time, place and matter restriction. We're approaching this from a zoning viewpoint."

Ben Boggess, a member of the Howard County Alliance to Maintain Community Values, expressed mild disappointment at the legal seesaw between the county and the Pack Shack, but said he supports the county's efforts.

"It's like everything else," said Boggess, also a pastor of the Baltimore First Seventh Day Adventist Church in Ellicott City. "The wheels turn slow, but they do turn, and we're glad they're turning."

Pub Date: 2/09/99

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