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Township opts out of Pa. bill that grants municipalities legal gambling licenses

11/07/2017 11:20AM ● Published by Richard Gaw

By Richard L. Gaw
Staff Writer

By a vote of three-to-zero, the Kennett Township Board of Supervisors passed a resolution at its Nov. 1 meeting that effectively distances the township from House Bill 271 Creating Act 42, that grants up to four licenses in the Commonwealth to operate legal gaming centers within a city, borough, incorporated town or township.
Signed into law on Oct. 30 by Gov. Wolf, the bill paves the way for as many as four municipalities in Pennsylvania to operate up to ten Category 4 slot machine licenses, allow some truck stops to operate video gaming terminals, and permit airport passengers gamble on tablets. It also legalizes fantasy sports and online gambling from any computer, phone or tablet in the state, and permits the state lottery to sell tickets online. The bill, which passed in the House by a vote of 109-72, opens the door to the largest permitted expansions of gambling of any state in the U.S.  
The bill states that each Category 4 casino would be able to operate between 300 and 750 slot machines and eventually up to 50 table games, and that no Category 4 location can be located within 25 linear miles of an existing Category 1, 2 or 3 casino facility.
With the passage of a resolution, the township voted to opt out of being considered as a site for permitting Category 4 functions and facilities. However, after the vote was in, Board Chairman Scudder Stevens mulled over the decision, saying that opting out of consideration gives the township the time to address additional issues.
"It seems to me that there could be some economic benefit to the township for having one of these facilities," he said. "I don't know, because I don't know enough about it, nor the details of how it would happen. I'm comfortable in supporting the 'opt out' [choice] right now, because I know that we can opt back into it at a later date, if it turns out to be an appropriate thing to do.
"If we don't opt out of it now...we can't opt out at a later time," he added. "If we did not opt out, then I would be concerned that if we begin to put together an ordinance [that amends] our zoning and use codes, we would be ready in case somebody showed up and made an application."
In other business, the supervisors, in preparation for the township to advertise and ultimately vote on laws governing the future of proposed medical marijuana growing and dispensary facilities in the township, voted 2-1 to amend the township's zoning ordinance No. 272, governing these regulations to proclaim that any dispensary who sets up shop in the township can operate that facility no less than 250 feet -- measured in a straight line in all directions -- from the nearest point on the property line near a residentially-zoned property, or a parcel that contains a school or day care center.
Stevens and supervisor Whitney Hoffman voted in favor of regulating the setback distance at 250 feet, while supervisor Dr. Richard Leff voted not in favor.
In keeping with new state laws that now permit growing facilities and dispensary centers in the Commonwealth, reaching a vote on the setback distance was suggested by township solicitor David Sander, in order to allow the township to set its own setback laws, rather than the state's. Currently, the state requires a 1,000-foot setback for medical marijuana-growing facilities, but has no laws governing set back distances for a dispensary.
Showing a map of Kennett Township and the Kennett Borough to the supervisors detailing the available properties that would permit a dispensary, Township Manager Lisa Moore told the supervisors that if they were to agree to a 250-foot setback, an additional 10 to 12 locations in the township could be used for the distribution of medical marijuana.
"We're putting this ordinance in place so that we don't have [a potential dispensary owner] come in and challenge it, because if they challenge it, they will attempt to make the [ordinances] less restrictive than we would," Moore said. "We're trying to put this in place so that we have regulations that we can live with, but also be fair."
"That's three and a third football fields," Stevens said. "That's a long distance. Unless [the state] thinks there's going to be a sneak ISIS attack in the middle of the night, I don't know why we need a secure building with one thousand feet completely surrounding it. It seems to me that's really overdoing it."
On June 29, the Pennsylvania State Department of Health granted permits to 27 medical marijuana holders in the Commonwealth -- including Chester County -- to create a total of 52 dispensaries. The permittees were given six months to become operational, before they can begin dispensing medical marijuana. Each of the dispensary permit holders is eligible to open a total of three locations.
The decision was made on the heels of the passage of the Medical Marijuana Act on May 17, 2016, which is expected to be fully implemented in early 2018. The implementation of the state's Medical Marijuana Program will offer medical marijuana to patients who are under a physician’s care for the treatment of a serious medical condition, such as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, Autism, Cancer, Crohn’s Disease, Epilepsy, Glaucoma, HIV and AIDS, Huntington’s Disease, Inflammatory Bowel Syndrome, Intractable Seizures, Multiple Sclerosis, Neuropathies, Parkinson’s Disease, Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, severe chronic or intractable pain and Sickle Cell Anemia.
During their discussion, the supervisors tossed out a few lengths in order to determine what would constitute a safe distance. Dr. Leff Compared the operation of a medical marijuana dispensary to a pharmacy, which he said does not require setback distances. He asked Kennett Township Police Chief Lydell Nolt if there is a police rationale that warrants a 1,000-foot setback for a dispensary.
"To my knowledge, there is not," Leff said. "The issue is that we don't have any baseline or data that says there is an enhanced risk from these facilities, as opposed to a pharmacy."
From a professional standpoint, Nolt said that would have more of a safety concern with a dispensary than with a growing facility. A dispensary, he said, offers the finished product, while the growth facility does not.
"In all honesty, the [final, determined] footage will play very little into whether there is a potential  criminal act there," he said. "Two hundred to 500 feet, or even 1,000 feet, will not likely play into whether a criminal act occurs there."
In partnership with the Longwood Fire Company, the Kennett Police Department is currently holding a holiday coat drive, with all coats being donated to Family Promise and the Kennett Food Cupboard. Township residents can drop off coats at any of the several drop-off locations throughout the area. Kennett Township residents can schedule a pick-up at their residence by calling the Kennett Township Police Department at 610-388-2874. The drive will continue through the remainder of the year.
On Dec. 14, the Kennett Township Police Department will join the Longwood Fire Company in the sponsorship of a blood donation drive, scheduled from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the township building on 801 Burrows Run Road. To determine qualification to give blood and to register, call the Longwood Fire Company at 610-388-6880.
Liz Swain was appointed as the township representative to the Kennett Area Park Authority.

 To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email rgaw@chestercounty.com.

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