Soliciting ordinance change likely

Street solicitors and panhandlers in Henrico County are likely to be out of luck next month – again.

The county’s Board of Supervisors Oct. 23 is expected to adopt changes to its no-soliciting ordinance that will close a loophole created the last time the ordinance was amended, in 2008.

The 2008 amendments made it illegal for anyone to distribute materials, solicit or sell (or attempt to sell) items while standing within any roadway or median in the county.

But it didn’t prevent individuals from engaging in those activities while sitting or lying down in a median or roadway. New language to be considered by the board next month would make such activities illegal altogether and also would prohibit the sale or attempted sale of services in all medians and roads.

In recent months, the number of solicitors in Henrico has increased noticeably, particularly in well-traveled northern and western corridors including West Broad Street and Staples Mill Road.

Supervisors and police have received a number of complaints from citizens who object to being asked for money, but in most cases police officers are unable to write tickets to the offenders because they are sitting down.

During a work session Sept. 11, officials emphasized that while the proposed changes should reduce the public nuisance factor, they are designed foremost to make things safer.

Tuckahoe District Supervisor Pat O’Bannon recounted a recent experience of her own, during which she witnessed a car strike a median while making a turn, which caused a solicitor sitting in the median to jump up into a travel lane on the opposite side of the road.

“This is totally about safety,” O’Bannon said of the proposed ordinance changes.

In 2011, police received 97 calls related to soliciting and made six arrests (including two of the same person), County Attorney Joe Rapisarda told the board. Already through the first eight months of this year, police have received 93 calls and made two arrests.

Individuals cited for violation of the ordinance face a maximum fine of $250. The ordinance does not impact activities on sidewalks, Rapisarda said.

Henrico Police Maj. Stephen Alloway told the board that one man who solicits at the West Broad Street-Pouncey Tract Road intersection in Short Pump made $60,000 through his efforts in a year.

Prior to the 2008 ordinance change, the county was only able to enforce its standards on county roads or at intersections that involved two or more county roads. It lacked the authority to enforce the ordinance on state roads (those with route numbers) in the county, or at intersections involving at least one state road.

But that year, Henrico won permission from the General Assembly to add state roads to the list of those on which it could enforce its ordinance.

Two years later, the General Assembly authorized all localities to adopt similar ordinances.

If the board adopts the new language, the revised ordinance would be effectively immediately, Rapisarda said.
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