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Pack Shack sheds ‘adult’ label by packing in new material

Maryland- The sign outside the Pack Shack might advertise adult videos in large letters, but in the eyes of the county, the controversial business no longer qualifies as an “adult” store.

As a result, a decade-long effort by the county to shut down the Route 40 store may be over.

Inspectors with the Department of Planning and Zoning made a recent visit to the Pack Shack, 8445 Baltimore National Pike, in Ellicott City, and decided it no longer met the county’s definition of an adult business.

The rules state an adult bookstore is a business having 20 percent or more of its total inventory or floor space dedicated to adult material.

Non-pornographic books and other items were added by Pack Shack owners so it would no longer be subject to the zoning rules, which were passed in 2004 and do not allow such businesses to operate within 300 feet of homes or within 1,000 feet of other adult stores.

The county warned the shop it was in violation of those regulations months ago, a warning appealed by the store but upheld by the county hearing examiner, according to Louis Ruzzi, senior assistant county solicitor.

A statement issued last week by the county’s Office of Law stated that, “Rather than challenge this definition in court, Pack Shack opted to make substantial modifications to its inventory and layout to fall within this definition.”

The office left the door open for the County Council to continue pressing the case against Pack Shack, noting that the council could “amend the law in a manner that achieves the objective and which can survive a court challenge.”

At least one council member was open to revisiting the issue.

“It’s something we might consider,” said County Council member Calvin Ball, a Columbia Democrat.

Baltimore attorney Howard Schulman, who has represented the store in its legal battles, said the owners hope the inspectors’ decision signals the end of the store’s problems with the county. “If people don’t like what the business is, they should vote with their feet and not patronize it,” he said.

The 2004 zoning changes were passed after the Maryland Court of Appeals overturned a 1997 law, aimed at the Pack Shack, that banned adult book stores from operating within 500 feet of a home or 2,500 feet from another adult bookstore.

The court ruled the law violated the First Amendment right to free speech by not giving adult stores “a reasonable opportunity to operate.” The county ultimately had to pay $187,690 in lawyer fees and other costs to the owners.

While the controversy over one bookstore in the county might be ending, another could be beginning.

County Executive Kenneth Ulman has asked the Department of Planning and Zoning to investigate another adult-oriented store, the Love Craft, in North Laurel, to make sure it is in compliance with county codes, county spokeswoman Kathy Sloan-Beard said.

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