A coalition of Hereford Township residents and members of the FREE (Freedom and Restoration for Everyone Enslaved) group made impassioned arguments for the inclusion of an amendment requiring proof of licensing prior to issuance of use and occupancy permits in the township, but to no avail with the Hereford supervisors, acting on the recommendation of the township planning commission.
The group attended the public hearing prior to the supervisors’ May 1 regular meeting to present their position on the amendment, which is in direct reaction to two incidents of Berks County law enforcement shutting down a massage parlor located on Star Road in 2010.
The massage parlor had been staffed by Chinese women, at least one of whom was in the United States illegally, according to the March 20, 2010 issue of the Reading Eagle.
FREE was founded by Boyertown resident Bob Morrison, who attended the hearing and stated that he had been working with Berks County detectives and District Attorney John Adams on behalf of the group to encourage Berks municipalities to change their ordinances to require proof of licensing, which would subsequently eliminate the possibility of prostitution rings operating under the guise of “massage parlors.”
The group contends that these types of operations are a part of global human trafficking rings.
The Hereford Planning Commission had considered adding the amendment to a “clean-up” of the 2009 zoning ordinance that had been ongoing since the adoption of the ordinance, but then decided against it.
Morrison stated “that it had originally appeared to be accepted,” but after further discussion the amendment was removed.
He further stated that “Your [the township’s] situation is very vulnerable,” given the lack of a police force and the previous history of illicit operations in Hereford.
Township engineer Jennifer McConnell reported that instead of the amendment, the definition of massage parlor was deleted from the section of the ordinance governing “adult commercial use” and was added to an amended section on “professional service” definition, which would include “massage therapy.”
McConnell explained that the zoning officer would have the ability to request license from massage therapists under this amendment. The change, she noted, is that there is “no pulled-out section” that specifically addresses the requirement of proof of licensing prior to issuance of use and occupancy permits.
Supervisor Keith Masemore, who prior to his current term as supervisor served on the planning commission, stated that the proposed amendment had been removed due to some enforcement language.
He said that the door was not closed on the possibility of the licensing amendment, and commented, “It can come back and maybe wording can be changed.”
After the public hearing, the supervisors granted waivers on the recommendation of the planning commission to Berks County for the construction of a communications tower on Woods Lane. An added bonus was a $900 fee in lieu of additional trees required under the township’s land development that will be used for a beautification project proposed by the Hereford recreation committee for the municipal park.
Masemore also reported that, after a discussion with Hereford Fire Chief Josh Borowski and the upcoming humidity expected for the rest of this week, the burning ban in the township could be lifted.