A proposed ban on camping on city property — drafted in response to Occupy Asheville‘s encampment in front of City Hall — didn’t make it past Asheville City Council’s Public Safety Committee. Instead the committee directed staff at its meeting this afternoon to look at a permitting process for campers.
The new proposals, put forward by Council member Gordon Smith, would establish a permitting process for individual campers using city property for purposes of free speech, with the permits renewable every seven days. Permitted campers would be responsible for health and safety issues, and subject to possible fines for damage to the site. Council member Cecil Bothwell, the committee’s chair, agreed with Smith. The original proposals would have banned camping, enclosed structures and storage on city property.
Council member Jan Davis, the remaining member of the committee, noted that while he didn’t completely agree with the originally proposed camping rules, he felt they had some good aspects, and the full Council should review it. He felt that complaints by surrounding business owners and some city employees about issues created by the site had to be addressed.
The decision followed over 45 minutes of public comment, where many Occupy Asheville members asked the committee to drop the proposed bans. The training room on the municipal building’s fourth floor was full, mostly with protesters. Some also opposed Smith’s permit proposal, saying they needed to be free or that the alternative was to “cooperate with Occupy Asheville.” Naomi Archer, a spokesperson for the protesters, noted that the Raleigh-based law firm Edelstein and Payne was watching the controversy closely, and delivered a letter from attorney Travis Payne asserting that the ban originally proposed is unconstitutional. She added that the city began to take Occupy Asheville seriously when the movement found that camping on non-park city property wasn’t outright prohibited under city ordinance and set up its tents on a narrow swath of land in front of City Hall.
Smith noted that he believed the city needed to charge a minimal fee for the camping permits to recoup costs, preferable to asking “taxpayers to subsidize a political movement they might not agree with.” He added that the permits for individual campers would allow Occupy Asheville to keep out “interlopers:” belligerents uninvolved with the movement some members had mentioned as an ongoing issue at the current camp.