West Windsor Township Council is considering the passage of an ordinance that would place tighter controls on vending boxes containing periodicals.##M:[more]##

Council last month directed Township Attorney Michael Herbert to draft the ordinance after receiving complaints from residents in Berrien City regarding the proliferation of boxes at the entrance to the Windsor Plaza (Acme) shopping center on Route 571.

Many of the boxes contain free publications that are 100 percent advertising, with no editorial content. Officials contend that since these publications don’t contain content meant to inform the public, they are not covered under first amendment protections.

Currently there are 17 boxes at the entrance to Windsor Plaza. Roughly half of those are real estate or auto publications that are primarily advertising. Many of the boxes have been placed in the middle of the sidewalk.

“This is a very, delicate issue, says Herbert. “We want to preserve the right of freedom of press and the first amendment. At the same time, we have these honor boxes which are nothing more than advertising in the public right of way, that we want to somehow to curb. This ordinance would not be aimed at any newspapers or anybody trying to inform the public.”

Herbert adds that the township does have the right to place restrictions on the placement of the boxes for public safety reasons.

“Some of these so-called courtesy boxes are cluttering Route 571 and creating hazards in the sense that they affecting (motorists’) sight lines. The Supreme Court has ruled that a municipality can regulate the time, manner, and placement of the machines. What we can’t control is the substance of a publication.”

“In effect, these courtesy boxes are creating modular mini-signboards in the public right of way,” says Herbert. “So on one hand, we want to deal with legitimate health and safety concerns. On the other hand we don’t want to curtail freedom of speech, while at same time dealing with the issue of these boxes containing advertising.

“A lot of these boxes are from commercial enterprises that are exploiting first amendment protections to give pitches for their own product, not informing the public of anything other than own interests in a right of way that taxpayers are paying for.”

Herbert adds that his ordinance is researching the issue to ensure that the ordinance presented to council does not encroach on constitutional rights. “It’s going to take a while to really develop this thing through.”