Nearly two years after adopting a zoning law regulating adult entertainment stores, Howard County officials have charged the Pack Shack adult bookstore in Ellicott City with three violations.
The violation notice renews a nearly nine-year-old struggle in which the county has failed to force the store to move from a prominent spot on U.S. 40 across from the Normandy Shopping Center.
The notice gives the store's operators until July 15 to correct the violations, but if history is any guide, the process could involve months, if not years, of legal appeals and hearings.
"It's way too early to say how it will all play out," said Louis P. Ruzzi, senior assistant county solicitor. "It would be unfair to Pack Shack at this point to comment."
Asked whether the county expected to be successful this time, Ruzzi said, "No comment."
Ruzzi said no permits have been issued for adult entertainment venues under the law, and no other violation notices are outstanding.
The Pack Shack is charged with being less than 300 feet from residentially zoned property, operating without a required county permit and having doors to viewing booths that prevent store employees from seeing what's happening inside.
A county inspection took place May 30, based on a complaint, Ruzzi said. The notice was issued Thursday.
Howard B. Schulman, the store's attorney, said he had not seen the violation notice, but he questioned the law's constitutionality.
Most businesses that exist before a more restrictive zoning law is passed are considered nonconforming uses and allowed to continue, he said. But the 2004 adult entertainment law requires stores such as Pack Shack to comply or move.
"One has to question from a constitutional viewpoint why the nonconforming use would be treated differently by the county than other nonconforming uses," he said. "In general, all nonconforming uses are entitled to be grandfathered."
"The store's going to attempt to come into compliance to the extent it's possible," he added.
The county enacted a similar, though stricter, adult entertainment law in December 1997, but after years of hearings and appeals, that statute was declared an unconstitutional restriction on free speech in 2003 by the Maryland Court of Appeals.
In December 2004, a Howard County judge ordered the county government to pay $187,690 in court costs to Pack Shack.
Ruzzi said that was paid late last year.
The first law allowed 23 legal locations, county lawyers argued, though Pack Shack attorneys said the real number was half that. It prohibited adult entertainment stores from being within 500 feet of residential communities, libraries, schools, churches, parks or day care centers and required that stores be at least 2,500 feet apart.
The second law, passed in July 2004, lowered those standards to require that adult businesses be 300 feet away from homes, schools and other public facilities and 1,000 feet from each other. That increased the number of legal locations to 101.
The two candidates running for County Council in District 1, which includes Ellicott City, said the county is doing the right thing.
"I think that if it's violating the law, they should be held accountable," said Courtney Watson, a Democrat. "It's a shame it's a complaint-driven process."
Tony Salazar, a Republican, said: "I think it's the wrong business for that location. Perhaps in a heavy industrial area where there's not children or other people, it's fine."
Salazar said he would not want the county to begin more aggressive zoning enforcement.
"Right now, I'm satisfied," he said.
County police raided the store and arrested five men on charges of indecent exposure a year ago.