Maryland County Steps Up Its War On Adult Businesses

PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY, Md.—After several years of failed attempts, the Prince George's County Council thinks it's finally found a way, in the words of adult business lobbyist Bruce C. Bereano, to "put these adult book stores and facilities out of business."

On Wednesday, the council passed two amendments to the county's existing adult zoning ordinances which, among other things, redefine an adult business as any business that devotes 10 percent or more of its stock to "visual representations which depict sadomasochistic abuse, sexual conduct or sexual excitement" ("the condition of human male or female genitals, or the breasts of the female, when in a state of sexual stimulation, or the sensual experiences of humans engaging in or witnessing sexual conduct or nudity") or which has even one viewing booth for adult movies on the premises.

Other requirements of the new laws include restricting the stores' hours of operation between midnight and 9 a.m.; forcing adult businesses to "blacken[] or obstruct[]" all windows, doors or other apertures so no one can see into the business from the outside; limit signage to one business sign; and to obtain a special use and occupancy permit, though a $250 licensing fee was removed from the final version of the ordinance.

And then there's the big one: All 14 adult businesses will have to relocate to industrial zones by January 2011.

In order for the amendments to the ordinances to become law, they would have to be signed by County Executive Jack Johnson, or if he fails to do so within 10 days, they would take effect without his signature unless he affirmatively vetoes them—but since the council passed both bills with large majorities, any veto could easily be overridden. Johnson has said that he plans to study them further before deciding.

Justifications for the new ordinances are the usual: "Testimony in the legislative records and certain findings from other jurisdictions indicate that adult businesses, including adult book stores and/or adult video stores, have a strong tendency to affect neighborhood character and may be associated with neighborhood deterioration or depreciation of property values. Prince George's County has an additional interest in controlling the location of adult book stores and/or adult video stores, to prevent access to such stores by children, who may be adversely influenced by the materials sold in such stores... The County Council finds that adult oriented businesses may and do generate secondary effects which are detrimental to the public health, safety and welfare. Among those secondary effects are: (A) Prostitution and other sex related offenses; (B) Drug use and dealing; and (C) Health risks through the spread of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. "

The Council also "found" that the county "continues to experience an increased demand for public safety services at and adjacent to adult business premises"; that "certain activities occurring on premises of adult book stores and/or adult video stores are disruptive to commercial and residential communities that they adjoin, and are otherwise detrimental to the public health, safety, and general welfare of the citizens and residents of the County"; and that the council "has substantial public interest in preserving societal order by the regulation of adult book stores and/or adult video stores." [Emphasis added]

But according to Bereano, the county's adult stores have "no history whatsoever... of any difficulties or problems" with police, and Robert Carl, owner of adult-oriented Video Plus in College Park, said he was told by town representatives "how much I improved the looks of this strip mall and how I increased the tax base on it."

However, lest anyone mistake the county's "regulation" for censorship, the ordinances' authors were careful to include the following:

"The provisions of the Prince George’s County Code and the Prince George’s County Zoning Ordinance have neither the purpose nor effect of imposing a limitation or restriction on the content of any communicative materials, including adult materials. Similarly, it is not the intent nor effect of the Prince George’s County Code or the Prince George’s County Zoning Ordinance to restrict or deny access by adults to adult materials protected by the First Amendment or the Maryland Constitution, or to deny access by the distributors and exhibitors of adult entertainment to their intended market."

The inspiration for these ordinances as well as several previous attempts lies with the Maryland Coalition Against Pornography, one of whose members, George Mazanderan, testified that an adult store near his home, Wholesale Lingerie and Gift Center, attracted "drug dealers and prostitutes," and that he has "found used condoms in his driveway."

No word on whether Mr. Mazanderan has any teenage children who might have contributed to the condom problem.