Kennett Township amends commercial solicitation ordinance
By Richard Gaw
In an effort to avoid a legal fight with a nationally known pest control company that is challenging Kennett Township’s commercial solicitation curfew of 6 p.m., the township’s Board of Supervisors agreed to amend the ordinance, which now sets the curfew for door-to-door sales at 30 minutes after sunset, Monday through Saturday.
The 3-0 vote was reached at the board’s Aug. 1 meeting.
The vote comes on the heels of a presentation by township solicitor David Sander at the board’s July 18 meeting. Sander told the board that the company was threatening to bring a lawsuit against the township if the curfew times were not extended. Subsequently, township manager Lisa Moore contacted the township's insurance carrier, which informed Moore that it would cover the township if the township is sued by the company. However, the insurance carrier told Moore that it would not cover the township if the township would not make a reasonable effort to come into compliance with the law.
To support their argument, the company referred to a Supreme Court decision that declared a curfew of door-to-door commercial solicitation to be unconstitutional.
“I personally feel that the whole process is unfortunate, because I think that having strangers coming up to your door, particularly when it is twilight or after, is an opportunity for serious harm to occur – feelings of threat and vulnerability and acting out,” board chairman Scudder Stevens said. “If we forced this to go to federal court, and the probability of losing as a consequence, the expense to the township would be to no ultimate end. I’m satisfied with the legal advice we received, and I am satisfied with the advice we received from our insurance carrier, as to our liability and our exposure if we forced this to federal court.
“I swallow my bile and bite my tongue, and vote for [the amendment].”
The board also approved a $50 application fee – previously $35 -- that will be applied to every solicitor to obtain a license to conduct business in the township. The application and fee process will be conducted by the township’s police department.
While the board’s decision extended solicitation curfews, the future of door-to-door sales in the township will also come with additional stopgap measures that may hold the line on solicitors.
Solicitors are required to register with the Kennett Township Police Department, as well as undergo background checks, before receiving a 30-day pass to conduct business in the township. In addition, the township has the authority to create an address list of residents who choose to join a “No Solicitation” registry that will be made available to solicitors by the police department. The addresses will remain on the list permanently, unless residents choose to opt out.
The new curfew deadline does not apply to religious or political groups.
“I think [the amendment] will be an improvement, and in some ways, we will end up in a better position than we were in before,” said supervisor Whitney Hoffman.
In other township business, the board voted to accept an active transportation study, currently being developed by the township and the Kennett Borough and funded by a grant from the Department of Community and Economic Development. The study is exploring plans to build paths, bike lanes and sidewalks in the township and the borough.
“There are a lot of decisions to be made, because we can’t just put up a sidewalk or a bike lane,” Moore said. “We need to really look at areas that are feasible.”
The board also voted to adopt a 10-year memorandum of understanding between the township, Kennett Borough and Historic Kennett Square through June 30, 2021, that acknowledges that all three entities work collaboratively.
During the meeting, the board addressed the news that Exelon Generation is exploring the possibility of moving out of its Kennett Square headquarters at 200 and 300 Exelon Way, where 700 employees work, once its lease expires in 2020.
Should the move happen, it would leave the township scrambling to recoup the loss of earned income tax that it currently receives from having Exelon in the township.
“This is the nature of the world we live in,” Stevens said. “There is a continual movement in our economic base in our township, because we live in a transient community. We have continued to recognize that concern and have been anxiously addressing the question of economic development in the region, not just the township.
“The fact is that things are going to change, and we’re going to continue to deal with it,” Stevens added. “If that means having to adjust [the township’s budget], then we will adjust the budget. We’re not hiding from this in any way, and we’re not living in a fool’s paradise that none of this will happen. We know that it has happened in the past and that it will continue to happen in the future. We just have to deal with it as we go along.”
Hoffman said that while plans for additional residential, mixed-use growth in the township are potentially a good source of taxes in the future, “We’ve got to be able to make sure that we’re doing all we can to make a stable economic infrastructure in the township, and that we’re not just riding the roller coaster of everyone’s ups and downs,” she said.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email firstname.lastname@example.org.