by Daniel Brouse
WEST CHESTER, PA — A second public hearing for a proposed ordinance to regulate street performers was held on September 21 at Borough Hall. Due to the time length of the meeting, a third public hearing has been scheduled for October 18 at 6PM.
The ordinance would regulate “the following activities: acting, singing, playing musical instruments, pantomime, juggling, magic, dancing, reading aloud, puppetry and reciting.”
Borough council members spent an hour-and-a-half suggesting changes. One of the most significant changes was to the Purpose of the ordinance, changing “the Borough Council therefore seeks to encourage such performances” to “the Borough Council therefore seeks to regulate such performances”. Council members Michael Galey and William J. Scott brought up concerns over unnecessary regulations, redundant regulations and over-reaching regulations. Quite a bit of discussion revolved around applying the regulation to private property. Surprisingly, there was no discussion about how this law would be applied to minors. At the previous hearing, a resident was voiced concerns, “If I’m playing a guitar and children start to dance, are they in violation.”
Eventually, comments by the public were heard. The overwhelming majority of the comments were against any attempts to regulate free speech.
The West Chester Business Improvement District (BID) executive director, Malcolm Johnstone stated his support for the ordinance. Only one business came out in favor of the ordinance. The owner of Penn’s Table Restaurant complained that the artists blocked the public right-of-way.
Comments against the ordinance came from a wide array of artists, performers and fans. Tom Wagner, Esquire, stated his opposition to the ordinance based on The First Amendment. Virginia Schawacker, director of Shaw Strings, voiced her concerns about regulating musical performances especially when on private property. Tony Webb has an architectural firm on Church Street and talked about his support for the music. A variety of musicians and students from West Chester University spoke out against the ordinance. Brad Rau, who holds a masters degree in classical guitar and teaches in West Chester, created a petition in support of the arts. The petition with hundreds of unsolicited signatures of citizens against regulating the arts was presented.
The discussion will continue in October.