Durango City Council unanimously approved an ordinance Tuesday that prohibits anyone from sitting or lying down on downtown sidewalks, curbs and other public areas.
The law will provide another tool for law enforcement to improve the atmosphere downtown and the safety of residents and tourists, Councilor Dick White said.
“I think this is achieving what we are trying to achieve” he said.
The crowd was split on the issue. Some residents praised the council for backing the ordinance, and others were concerned the rule was targeting panhandlers and homeless residents.
Councilors defended the ordinance and said that it would not discriminate against panhandlers or anyone else.
“People can stand with a sign on Main Avenue all day long and they are absolutely within their First Amendment rights,” White said.
The rule bans sitting and lying on sidewalks from 7 a.m. to 2:30 a.m. along Main Avenue from the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad depot to 12th Street. The new ordinance would also apply to Narrow Gauge Avenue, the alley east of Main Avenue and East Second Avenue from College Drive to Ninth Street.
In addition to sidewalks, the rule, which will go into effect this summer, also prohibits sitting or lying down on streets, railways, alleys, parking spaces or other publicly owned property used for pedestrian or vehicle travel.
The ordinance does not apply to anyone experiencing medical emergencies, downtown visitors with disabilities, children in strollers and those attending parades, festivals, performances or other special events. Residents are also allowed to sit on furniture installed by the city or a business.
After receiving a warning, offenders of the new law could face fines. The first fine would not exceed $100, and the second fine would not exceed $200. A municipal judge could impose a lower fine, if appropriate, City Attorney Dirk Nelson said.
The ordinance was based on similar laws that have held up to legal challenges, including ordinances in Colorado Springs and Tempe, Arizona, he said.
“I wouldn’t have brought an ordinance to you that I didn’t think was legally supportable,” he said in response to questions from councilors.
Ted Hermesman was among the business owners who backed the ordinance to improve safety downtown.
“Sidewalks are there to be walked on as a way of transportation,” he said.
Lynne Sholler questioned the times the ordinance would be in effect and the areas it would cover.
Downtown is not usually crowded at 7 a.m. or 8 p.m. she said.
“The concerns about congestion are overstated,” she said.
Some residents opposed the ordinance because it wouldn’t address poverty, which they described as the underlying problem.
“I think this is a Band-Aid. I think this ordinance is going to merely cover a wound that is festering in our city,” resident Linda Daniel said.
White described homelessness as a challenge that will require collaboration between the city and other organizations to address.
“It is going to take a community-wide effort on a scale we have not experienced,” he said.