College Park officials up in arms over alleged sex store'
City says shop misled zoning officials, is operating in wrong zone
College Park officials are concerned that what they expected to be a "variety store" in North College Park is violating zoning laws by selling lingerie, pornographic videos and sex toys.
City code enforcers have accused owners of the Comfort Zone, located at 9721 Baltimore Ave., of violating their use and occupancy, or U&O, permit by selling adult items, said city public services director Bob Ryan.
Ryan said the store received its permit in January, after owners told Prince George's County planning officials they would be running a variety store that would sell retail items similar to those seen in a typical dollar store.
The city issued a zoning violation Oct. 12, after an inspection showed otherwise.
"You can judge for yourself, when you go there, whether it's a dollar store," Ryan said of the Comfort Zone, which has a sign on its front door barring minors from entering. "They can comply with their U&O and operate as a variety store, or they can move the sex store to the proper zone."
The citation ordered owners to move out or limit adult items to less than 10 percent of their floor space within 30 days. Store owners will appeal at a Jan. 19 hearing before the county Board of Zoning Appeals.
Phone calls to the Comfort Zone were not answered and a man who identified himself as the manager Nov. 30 declined to comment.
City Councilman Patrick Wojahn (Dist. 1) said he began hearing concerns from residents when the shop opened last summer that it was too close to residents and could potentially scare away retail or housing development.
"People were saying things like they didn't feel it was appropriate to have an adult store located so close to a school," Wojahn said, referring to the fact that the store is about a quarter-mile from Hollywood Elementary School. "There's a place for adult stores ... but on the other hand, I think we need to have businesses that look nice and spur quality development."
The North College Park Citizens Association was scheduled to discuss the store with owner Robert Carl on Nov. 11, but he failed to attend, said NCPCA President Mark Shroder.
"We've heard a little bit [of concern], but not a lot," Shroder said, adding that the NCPCA is unlikely to meet with Carl or take an official stance on his store before the Jan. 19 hearing.
Ryan said the city is not taking issue with the store's risqué inventory, but with the fact that it is selling its wares in the wrong zone. He said zoning laws would allow for an adult store in an industrial park along Paint Branch Parkway, but that a sex shop in its current location is simply illegal.
"It is what it is," Ryan said. "It's just in the wrong place, according to county zoning regulations."