20-foot rule stands in panhandling ordinance, judge says

BARBARA COTTER Updated: February 8, 2013 at 12:00 am • Published: February 8, 2013

Get out the tape measure if you plan to panhandle in Colorado Springs.

Earlier this week, a federal judge in Denver clarified that her preliminary injunction involving a controversial panhandling ordinance applies only to the part that would create a no-solicitation zone in a 12-square-block area of downtown.

But the portion of the ordinance that prohibits solicitation within 20 feet of a residential or business doorway — not just downtown, but citywide — will stand because it wasn’t challenged in a lawsuit filed in November by the Colorado chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

“The 20-foot stays, no matter what,” City Attorney Chris Melcher said Friday. “That will benefit not only downtown, but also merchants on the west side and throughout the city. It does accomplish quite a lot of what we were hoping for, so we’re very pleased with that.”

Still up in the air is whether the city will fight to keep the downtown no-solicitation zone, which would cover an area bounded by Boulder Street on the north, Nevada Avenue on the east, Cucharras Street on the south and Cascade Avenue on the west, and would include Acacia Park. In December, amid ACLU arguments that a no-solicitation zone is unconstitutional, U.S. District Court Judge Marsha Krieger issued a preliminary injunction preventing it from taking effect.

Mayor Steve Bach had said Thursday that Colorado Springs City Council did not want to continue the legal fight to keep the no-solicitation zone alive, but on Friday he said it’s up in the air. Melcher said he will meet Monday with City Council to discuss at least three options: continue the legal battle to have the no-solicitation zone upheld; withdraw and not contest the ruling; or redraft the ordinance to pass constitutional review with Krieger.

“We’ll seek council guidance on how to take this forward,” Melcher said.

A Downtown Solutions Team created by Bach came up with the idea for a no-solicitation zone to address complaints that panhandlers were intimidating shoppers and driving business away. The ordinance, approved in November, not only created the downtown no-solicitation zone, but added 14 feet to the original 6-foot barrier separating panhandling activity from business and residential entrances.

City Councilman Bernie Herpin, who supported the ordinance, said he was pleased the 20-foot rule has survived, and believes it may be enough to tackle panhandling problems when coupled with an existing ban on aggressive panhandling.

“So even if the no-panhandling zone fails the court challenge, we still have the means to help ensure that people can come downtown and have an enjoyable experience,” he said.

Bach said to enhance downtown security, the police will try to add more foot patrols.

“They’re doing their best to ramp up foot patrols downtown, but it’s so hard when we have others areas, like the west side and southeast, that need more help,” Bach said.

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