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Pa. fights 'hanging around'

September 14, 1999|By DON AINES

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - An ordinance restricting "commercial hanging around" may soon be adopted by the Chambersburg Borough Council.

"It's kind of a replacement for a loitering ordinance ... Residents of the Third Ward have been asking for that," Assistant Borough Manager David Finch said Monday.

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On Wednesday, the council voted to advertise the proposed ordinance, which could be adopted later this month.

"Drugs are a large part of it, certainly. I don't think anybody's kidding themselves about that," Third Ward Councilman Carl Helman said Monday.

Loitering ordinances can pose constitutional problems, said borough attorney Thomas J. Finucane. An anti-loitering ordinance in Chicago, Ill., was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in June because it was too broad. "The Chicago case aimed at gangs ... That's not the case here," he said.

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"I think it's clear Catherine and South Main streets are going to be the first areas" designated for no commercial hanging around, Finucane said. He said it is another tool police can use to keep thoroughfares open for pedestrians and vehicles.

The draft ordinance reads that "it is a burden on the public's use of the sidewalk and street for persons to hang around for commercial purposes" when options such as shops, offices and door-to-door sales exist. If passed, a license will be "required to prevent restricted areas from being burdened by commercial hanging around."

The ordinance defined commercial hanging around as being on a public street or sidewalk and engaging in commercial transactions within 300 feet of a fixed point two or more times during a four hour period. "A license for commercial hanging around shall be issued by the Borough Treasurer," at no cost, although a state sales tax license is required.

Before a citation is issued, police have to give a written warning "based on personal observation or on information and belief," according to the ordinance. Penalties range from $50 to $600 and up to 30 days in jail.

A private complaint could result in a written warning, Helman said. Citations have to be backed up by evidence at a hearing.

"The aim here is not to have people prosecuted and fined, but to cease certain activities," Finucane said. If the ordinance is approved, the council could designate areas where commercial hanging around is prohibited, Finucane said.

Earlier this year Mayor Robert Morris declared a "zero tolerance" policy regarding parking, open container and other violations. Helman said Morris and Police Chief Michael DeFrank provided figures on increased arrests to the Third Ward Community Task Force Sept. 7.

"It seems there is a split opinion from residents down there" about the effectiveness of the policy, Helman said.

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