The beauty and appeal of downtown Lawrence needs to be protected from people camping on sidewalks or in alleyways, city commissioners said Tuesday.
Commissioners in a 4-1 vote gave initial approval to an ordinance that would make it illegal to camp on any public right-of-way in the downtown area. Commissioners took up the ordinance after City Commissioner Mike Amyx - a downtown business owner - said he saw people sleeping in doorways, sidewalks and alleys on a weekly basis.
"Downtown Lawrence truly is the jewel of our community, and as we work to maintain it, I just don't believe camping on the sidewalks is an appropriate deal," Amyx said.
Commissioner Mike Rundle cast the lone dissenting vote. He said he wanted the city's new Community Commission on Homelessness to review the ordinance and provide a recommendation to city commissioners. He also said he thought the ordinance would do little to help solve the core problems of homelessness.
Two advocates for the homeless agreed. Loring Henderson, director of the Lawrence Community Shelter, and Helen Hartnett, a professor at Kansas University's School of Social Welfare, expressed concerns about the ordinance.
"It won't resolve the situation," Henderson told commissioners. "It may move someone from a certain spot, but it won't resolve it."
The ordinance also will have an impact on people who aren't homeless. City staff members confirmed that the new ordinance would make it illegal for people to camp outside Liberty Hall for concert tickets.
Doug Redding, a manager at Liberty Hall, said he didn't think the new law would greatly affect the venue's operations. But he said he thought it would be a pain nonetheless.
"I think it is going to open up a can of worms," Redding said. "I don't understand it because everybody's pretty harmless, even the homeless people."
Amyx said he had received calls from several downtown business owners, in addition to observing several situations himself. Amyx said part of his decision stemmed from the fact the city provides funding for two homeless shelters in town.
"I had a hard time of doing one thing without doing the other," Amyx said of the ordinance.
Other commissioners said they agreed that the ordinance wouldn't solve the core problems of homelessness, but would give the city another tool in protecting downtown.
Commissioners last year rejected an ordinance that would have made it illegal to camp in city parks. This ordinance only addresses property that is zoned C-3 commercial. That essentially includes all property along New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts streets between Sixth and 11th streets.
Like all ordinances, it won't become official until it is approved on second reading. Commissioners agreed to delay the second reading of the ordinance until Jan. 24 to give the homeless commission time to comment, if it desires.
In other business, commissioners:
¢ rescheduled a study session with the Lawrence Public Library board for 9 a.m. on Feb. 15 at the library, 707 Vt. Commissioners canceled a study session with the group scheduled for today at the request of library board members who said they needed more time to prepare. The meeting is to discuss the possible expansion of the library.
¢ approved a site plan for expansion of Southwest Junior High School, 2511 Inverness Drive. The 39,000-square-foot expansion was approved by voters as part of the last school bond election. It will allow the temporary classroom trailers to be removed from the site.
¢ agreed to send a tax application for Berry Plastics to the Public Incentives Review Committee for recommendation. No date was set for the group to review the application.