A Circuit Court judge ordered a controversial Halethorpe business to pull the plug on video booths showing adult-oriented material that county officials say violates the law and neighbors say is a nuisance in the community.
Judge Dana Levitz on April 23 granted a preliminary injunction in a case brought by Baltimore County against Lovecraft, a video store at 5648 Southwestern Boulevard, across the street from the MARC Halethorpe Station.
According to Chip Raynor, inspector with the county’s code inspection and enforcement office, Lovecraft has eight private video booths, some of which are equipped with a "glory hole" between booths to allow patrons to engage in sex acts.
Residents have long complained that Lovecraft has a reputation as a place for men to arrange sexual hookups through sites such as Craigslist and Backpage.
The court hearing was punctuated with crude terminology that would make polite company blush.
"I'll be shocked, but I'll get over it," Levitz advised both sides during the hearing.
The county previously tried to shut down Lovecraft in 2010, according to court records. The video store removed video booths for more than a year, but reportedly returned in December of 2011.
Lovecraft is located on property zoned "business light" (BL), which allows adult-oriented material under certain conditions, according to county officials.
Under codes that went into effect in July of 2010, businesses must limit the amount of floor space and sales generated by adult material to 15 percent.
Mike McAuliffe, president of the Halethorpe Improvement Association, testified that virtually 100 percent of the Lovecraft floor space and products are adult-oriented.
Baltimore attorney Howard Schulman argued that Lovecraft is in compliance with county code, contending that only 15 percent of the videos being shown at the store are adult-oriented.
A reading of the list of titles showed that the 85 percent of the videos are presidential speeches that are in the public domain.
Levitz was incredulous that a patron would sit in a video booth and pay 25 cents to watch a speech of President Obama discuss economic policy in two- or three-minute increments.
In his preliminary order, Levitz ordered that the video booths be shut off by 5 p.m. and either removed from the premises or blocked from the public.
"The order will require all video booths to be closed to the public to the county's satisfaction," said county attorney Paul Mayhew.
Although an appeal of the order is likely, McAuliffe called the decision a victory.
"I feel very good about it," he said. "I'd rather see the whole business just move, because as long as they're there we have to be vigilant. They're always tempting the law and they always will."
A hearing for a permenent injunction will be scheduled within a few months, according to Mayhew.