ANNAPOLIS – The Court of Special Appeals Tuesday reversed a lower-court decision that would have required a store that sells adult magazines and videos to move or shut down.
The intermediate appeals court ruled 20/20 News on West Street in Annapolis can continue to do business until a county appeals board decides what constitutes an adult bookstore or movie theater.
The ruling is another chapter in the nine-year battle between Anne Arundel County zoning officials; the owners of the store, 2020C West Street Inc.; and the owners of the property, Michael and Kathe Piera.
Gerald P. Martin, attorney for the store owner, said the county has unfairly targeted his client because of the material the store sells. County officials are trying to run the store out of business, he said.
“I view it as a First Amendment issue,” Martin said. “As long as [the store] is not creating a problem, people ought to be able to buy what they want to buy and where they want to buy it.”
But David A. Plymyer, attorney for the county, said adult bookstores have unsavory secondary effects, such as attracting solicitation and prostitution and lowering property rates. “The First Amendment rights are an issue, but they need to be balanced against the rights of the community,” he said.
Martin called “the secondary-effects stuff” a smoke screen. “The neighborhood is a lot better off than it was 25 years ago, when the store first opened,” he said.
The 1989 zoning law that sparked the litigation, Plymyer said, was intended to limit adult bookstores to primarily industrial and commercial areas. An adult bookstore, according to county statutes, is one where more than 20 percent of the merchandise is sex-oriented.
A clerk at 20/20 News refused to say what percentage of the store’s merchandise is adult-oriented. Lawyers for the store and the property owners said they didn’t know.
When the store was licensed in 1983, zoning for the property permitted adult bookstores, said Harry C. Blumenthal, attorney for the land owners.
But, Plymyer said, it was the county’s right to rezone the area in 1989, to bar adult-themed stores in that neighborhood.
“The county cannot use zoning laws to eliminate all adult bookstores, but it can limit their location,” Plymyer said. “Frankly, people don’t want them near residential communities.” Blumenthal said the nearest home is nearly a half-mile away, adding the store sits in the middle of a commercial district surrounded by other businesses. -30-