By Candia Dames
WASHINGTON – A federal judge has denied a Silver Spring adult bookstore owner’s request to block enforcement of a Montgomery County law that limits adult entertainment businesses to certain areas of the county.
Richard Biggs, owner of Bigg Wolf Discount Video Movie Sales Inc., claimed the zoning code violated his First Amendment right to free speech.
The law prohibits adult businesses from operating within 750 feet of any residential zone, schools, libraries, churches, playgrounds or other community facilities, arguing that such businesses lead to higher crime, lower property values and other problems.
The May 2000 law gave businesses until October 2001 to move to an acceptable area. Biggs, whose store is in the 9400 block of Georgia Avenue, said he was not able to move.
“[Biggs] believes very strongly in a vibrant First Amendment,” said his attorney Jonathan Katz. “We have to err on the side of free expression even if that means some feathers are going to be ruffled.”
But the county argued that the purpose of the ordinance was not to regulate the content of the materials offered by the businesses, but “to prevent the adverse secondary effects caused by adult businesses.”
U.S. District Judge Deborah K. Chasanow agreed in a ruling Wednesday.
“When there is no likely irreparable First Amendment injury, the only harms of which Bigg Wolf can complain are economic harms from relocating or reducing its display of adult material,” she wrote. “The county has strong public policy reasons to act in the general welfare to fight the secondary effects.”
Bigg Wolf, which has been at its present location since 1993, carries sexually explicit merchandise that comprise about 85 percent to 90 percent of the store’s sales, according to Biggs’ testimony.
Under the zoning provisions, an adult entertainment business is defined as an establishment that “sells, rents, exhibits, or displays adult entertainment materials using a floor area that is more than 10 percent of the total area” of the store.
Biggs claims that under the ordinance, at least six retail stores will have to relocate. But he and Katz argued that there are no more than seven eligible sites in the county where such businesses could move under the ordinance.
Katz also said the county did not rely on enough evidence to show that the community was adversely affected by the presence of such businesses. He said the county ordinance is too vague in that it lumps businesses like Bigg Wolf into the same category as strip clubs and other live entertainment facilities.
Biggs had hoped to keep the county from enforcing the ordinance until later this year, when a full trial on the issue is expected.
The county has not yet tried to enforce the law against Bigg Wolf. County officials could not be reached to comment on their next step in the case.
James Savage, a county attorney arguing the case, was not available Friday. But County Council member Steven Silverman welcomed the ruling, saying the county does not want adult businesses “near our schools, churches or residential neighborhoods.”
“They’re unhappy, we’re happy,” Silverman said. “We recognize that there is a First Amendment right for these establishments to exist, we’re just trying to regulate where they can exist.”