Commissioners seek closure of adult shop in Hampstead

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Carroll County commissioners asked a judge yesterday to force the closure of an adult-themed store in Hampstead and impose a $100-a-day fine.

"It comes down to whether Lovecraft operates as an adult store according to Carroll County zoning ordinances," said Terri Jones, senior assistant attorney for Carroll County. "It's clearly in the wrong zone and needs to be relocated to a general industrial zone."

Jones presented the Carroll County planning and zoning commission's argument that the store - in a Hampstead strip mall with a liquor store, pizza delivery chain and subway shop and a few hundred feet from a public library - exceeds the county's limit of 20 percent of usable floor area that can be used for "display or storage of matters or devices depicting, describing or relating to sexual activities."

One of the store's district supervisors said operators have tried to reduce questionable items to comply with the Carroll ordinance.

"We switched the video room from the 8-by-24 room to the 17-and-a-half-by-8 room," said Howard Hirsch, who works for Seplic, the Baltimore parent company of Carroll Croft Retail, also known as Love Craft. "It may not sound like a lot, but it is. We keep ... segregating adult and nonadult items."

The hearing yesterday followed an appeal by Carroll Croft Retail challenging a Carroll District Court ruling granting the county an injunction against the store. Jones said the county asked the sheriff's office to padlock the store and arrest employees, but she said enforcing the injunction has been difficult. The store has remained open.

"I'm surprised they didn't suggest burning it down," said Howard Schulman, the lawyer representing the store. "This is a case of big government attempting to meddle where it shouldn't."

Schulman and Jones gave Judge Raymond E. Beck Sr. two calculations of usable floor area in the 2,500-square-foot store. Schulman's calculations included areas such as bathrooms and storage closets, which put the store at about 19 percent floor area use for items such as condoms, adult videos and lingerie.

With the help of zoning administrator Neil Ridgely, Jones argued that the proportion of the public display area devoted to adult-themed products is closer to 40 percent.

Beck said he will issue a written decision, but did not say when.

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