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Wednesday, March 4, 2015

"Sexually Oriented Businesses" - coming to Ligonier Township?

A friend pointed out the contents of the LIGONIER TOWNSHIP 2015 ZONINGORDINANCE – THIRD DRAFT is available online.  Lots of reading there, but there is a new section (§ 20-7. Specific Conditions of Conditional Use) that seems ill-advised, as it creates zoning for sexually-oriented businesses to operate within Ligonier Township.

Zoning for sexually-oriented businesses in the township doesn't sound like a good idea to me.  Have the Township officials checked into the Meadville, PA Town Code Article 325 on sexually oriented business regulations?  The first section, 325.01 Findings., begins with the statement: "Sexually oriented businesses have adverse secondary effects which are detrimental to the public health, safety and welfare. Such adverse secondary effects include, but are not limited to, increased incidence of sexual harassment, obscenity, prostitution and other illegal sexual activities, spread of communicable diseases, public exposure to sexual acts in public places, crime, decreased property values and neighborhood deterioration."

Seems to me that those secondary effects are contrary to section 1-4. Interpretation and Intent of the draft Township Ordinance itself: "In interpreting and applying the provisions of this chapter, it shall be held to be the minimum requirements for the promotion of the health, safety, morals and general welfare of Ligonier Township."  Is the intent of the Township is to set a very low minimum requirement for promoting health, safety, morals, etc.?  The inclusion of sexually-oriented businesses in the township mocks the stated objectives of the proposed Zoning as stated in section 1-5: 

A.     ... to preserve rural and suburban residential character and quality of life, ....
C.   To ensure ... new development minimizes negative impacts ....
D.   To encourage development of ... safe and affordable neighborhoods ....
E.   To support a healthy and aesthetically pleasing environment .... 

I am not a lawyer, but a quick read of this zoning ordinance implies that the township is opening the back door to allow sexually oriented businesses into the township without adhering to State Title 68 regulating Adult-oriented establishments.  The zoning provisions for sexually oriented businesses do not provide common sense oversight for client sanitation and worker protections.  You can look to Hempfield Township right here in Westmoreland County for rational guidance on how to implement an ordinance on Sexually-oriented businesses (Chapter68).

In addition to my objection to sexually-oriented businesses, I am appalled that the distances from schools, places of worship, etc. to such businesses would be allowed within just 600 or 800 feet.  That's barely one city block (580 feet)!  Why would our zoning ordinance measure distances as though we are a city with extremely limited space?  Why wouldn't we be putting miles between places where children gather and places that are not suitable for them?

Finally, the definitions of sexually-oriented businesses provided in the Township's ordinance are outdated and broad to the point of including illegal activities.  Fair disclosure: I am married to a Pennsylvania State Licensed Massage Therapist.  The Pennsylvania State Title 68 definitions of Adult-oriented establishments would provide a better list of categories for what the township calls Sexually-Oriented Businesses.  I suggest that list is better because it identifies activities that are legal in the state  The obsolete term "Massage  Parlors", with it's connotations to bordellos, belongs to a century long-passed.  The state of Pennsylvania now licenses Massage Therapists  and recognizes legitimate massage therapists as useful contributors to the health industry.  To my knowledge, there are no licensing requirements for bordellos in Pennsylvania, possibly because they are illegal in this state.  Why would we zone for them?