KURE BEACH — A Pleasure Island town overhauled its solicitation amendment on Monday, removing its permit process and offering clearer guidance on prohibited areas.
The most notable additions to the new Kure Beach ordinance, which restricts peddling, solicitation and begging in certain public spaces, are the ban on solicitation in an “aggressive manner” and a fine for violations.
During the meeting, Town Attorney James Eldridge said the rewrite lists specific public spaces — such as beaches and right-of-ways — where those activities are barred and eliminate its “discretionary” permit process. Previously, solicitors would have to gain town permission to apply to solicit services or beg for money.
Council passed the amendment with unanimous approval.
However, it raises questions about the legality of its contents under the First Amendment. Panhandling is protected in public spaces, including roads and sidewalks, per 2015’s U.S. Court of Appeals Fourth Circuit case, Reynolds v. Middleton. Since it is considered free speech, municipalities would need to provide a “burden of proof” to enact restrictions, which are required to be “narrow and specific” in scope.
In July, the City of Wilmington discussed initiatives to deter solicitation as it cannot ban it, despite a prohibition ordinance in its books. It essentially decided to increase funding for social services and encourage people to donate to nonprofits rather than directly give money to people on the street.
Municipalities can regulate panhandling that intimidates, threatens or causes physical harm to the public. Under North Carolina statute, law enforcement is within its rights to cite someone for aggressive behaviors while panhandling.
Kure Beach’s new ordinance identifies six categories of what’s considered aggressive:
- Physical contact with a person
- Following someone in a way making them fear bodily harm, expect a criminal act or damage to their property
- Continuing to solicit within 5 feet of a person after they denied the solicitor’s request
- Blocking the free movement of a person or vehicle
- Abusive or obscene language to gain money or items of value
- Approaching someone in an intimidating way in order to receive money or items of value
The ordinance bans soliciting from people within 50 feet of some public spaces including Town Hall, the Joe Eakes and Ocean Front parks, The Community Center banks and financial institutions, and beach access points. Also, people cannot solicit operators of cars on a public street or people in line at a commercial establishment.
Solicitors cannot operate on the beach, in parking lots, within town-owned or Wave Transit vehicles and in the Town’s public right-of-ways. At the meeting, Eldridge said he would change the latter to specific paved right-of-ways to allow people to utilize sidewalks and dirt roadsides.
“The bottom line is that if someone is in the street, they can’t solicit, but if they are on the sidewalk or the dirt, they can,” Eldridge said.
Private property is also forbidden if the owner or tenant informs the solicitor to stop or posts a visible notification banning the act.
Solicitation is limited to daylight hours and if someone violates the ordinance, they can now be charged with a $50 civil citation, due no more than 72 hours after issuance.
One Kure Beach resident pointed out during the meeting’s public comment period the amendment may still cause confusion and be too restrictive.
“[The amendment] does not produce reasonable places when you take away all the prohibited places listed,” Megan Garrett said during the meeting. “It pretty much says you can do this in public but not in any of the public parts of the town.”
However, Garrett approved banning aggressive solicitation only. Allowing people to panhandle anywhere, in her opinion, does not impede the welfare of citizens and is exercising the right to free speech.
Eldridge noted that the town’s restrictions are permitted under the amendment’s purpose. He added the public welfare and safety is served by restricting where solicitation can occur.
“We recognize the right to the First Amendment to solicit and panhandle,” Eldridge said. “As you all know, there’s been a lot of prohibitions or regulations that have been struck down by the way they are worded, whereas reasonable time, manner and place restrictions are bound to be enforced.”
During her comment, Garrett also raised concerns about other activities that could be considered solicitation, like busking.
“One could argue that having an open guitar case could be interpreted as a request for a donation, and therefore, prohibited in all the places one would normally busk,” she said. “If this is the council’s intent, I ask that you reconsider.”
Eldridge told Port City Daily busking would not be subject to the new amendment and is still under review by town staff, but council members had questions about other activities like ice cream trucks and door-to-door salespeople.
He added the town distinguishes advertising from solicitation — salespeople would be soliciting, but ice cream and food trucks are more nuanced. He said the town is considering revising the solicitation definition to give clearer guidelines on busking and mobile businesses.
Port City Daily reached out to the Kure Beach Police Department to find out how it will enforce the ordinance, but no one responded by press.
Reach journalist Brenna Flanagan at firstname.lastname@example.org