By Linda Dillman
You see them along busy intersections holding handmade signs asking for handouts and while their actions may appear intrusive and illegal, panhandlers are within their legal rights in public areas.
During the Aug. 1 Canal Winchester City Council meeting, Law Director Thaddeus Boggs said he received questions from people concerned about panhandlers operating in areas of the city. It is an issue that surfaces from time to time, according to Boggs.
“From a legal perspective, the courts have recognized panhandling as a form of protected speech, so any regulation of that becomes a matter of strict scrutiny and very hard to defend,” said Boggs.
According to Boggs, a few years ago the city of Columbus passed an aggressive panhandling ordinance, but now declines to enforce it. He said other cities were also forced to amend their panhandling laws under the threat of a lawsuit.
“It’s not a lack of trying or interest in panhandling and making sure everyone in the community feels safe,” said Boggs. “However, if people are on private property and have been told either verbally or by a sign posted on the property that panhandling is not permitted, it may be a trespassing issue. That can be a trespass rather than a matter of free speech. If people feel intimidated and feel like they are under a threat of force for money, we can call it attempted robbery and (it would) be a good reason to call Sgt. Walker and her colleagues.”
Other CW news
•Councilman Patrick Shea introduced an ordinance that would notify residents of their location in the city’s historic and preservation districts on a yearly basis.
“I thought that we should have the city mail out to residents annually to prevent future problems of people saying, ‘I didn’t know I was in the preservation district,’” said Shea. “As a city, we would be doing them a favor by proactively notifying them.”
Councilwoman Laurie Amick felt it was important that every address in the district be notified annually. She said a person facilitating the maintenance of a property also needs to be aware of the designation.
Development Director Lucas Haire said door hangers were distributed in the past every two to three years – the last time in 2019 to approximately 300 houses.
Mayor Mike Ebert said no matter where a person lives, there are always going to be standards that need to be met, whether it is in a historical district, a preservation district, or part of a homeowner’s association.
“I don’t care what area of town it is, you have standards to meet,” said Ebert. “There are rules. We have a lot of different ordinances that have been adopted over the last 200 years almost and they’re there for a purpose.”
Canal Winchester property owners are advised to call the city for guidance through the review process before starting a project. However, in reviewing the city website, Amick said there was nothing apparent to her about knowing if a property owner is in the historic or preservation district.
“There isn’t anything obvious for a new resident,” said Amick.
•Council also discussed the need to update the city’s Old Towne guidelines.
“The guidelines are 10 years old and haven’t been updated since 2012,” said Councilwoman Jill Amos. “There is a lot of stuff in there that we can make a little clearer or decide if this is what we’re going for. Make it easier for someone to pick it up and know what they’re looking at. There are parts in there that seem a little antiquated. Take a look and make sure this is still what we want to present to our residents.”
Amos urged council to review the lengthy document over the next couple of months.