The Bloomington City Council voted against an amendment that would ban obstructions on public right-of-way at their meeting Wednesday, with multiple councilmembers sharing concerns about how the amendment would affect the unhoused population.
The council also voted to amend the vehicle and traffic municipal code. This ordinance is a collection of city traffic and parking control changes based on several public requests and feedback through commission offices.
The changes to Title 15 Municipal Code of the Bloomington Municipal Code include removing the four-hour limit on all accessible parking spaces that do not otherwise have time limits for non-accessible parking spots.
Audrey Brittingham, an assistant city attorney, said the current code does not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“We realized that limiting parking spaces, accessible parking spaces downtown to four hours where there’s not otherwise a time limit for other parking spaces is essentially disparate treatment,” Brittingham said. “This ordinance change is an attempt to rectify that and to bring code further into compliance with the ADA.”
The amendment passed unanimously, with Councilmember Ron Smith absent from the vote.
After the Title 15 amendment discussion, the Board of Public Works proposed changes to Title 12 of Bloomington Municipal Code titled “Streets, Sidewalks, and Storm Sewers.” In this code, the Board of Public Works suggested bans on placing obstructions in the public’s right-of-way.
Michael Rouker, the City Attorney, said the proposal was drafted to address one incident where a civilian would not cooperate in removing an object from the public’s right of way. He said the ordinance, if passed, would apply to any right-of-way the city is responsible for. It’s not to punish citizens but to establish a mechanism for when someone refuses to move an object from the sidewalk, he said.
Multiple citizens opposed the amendment during public comment, saying that it would be used to target the members of the unhoused population who have no place to go or put their belongings.
Councilmember Jim Sims, one of the at-large representatives, expressed concerns about how the amendment would affect the suburbs of Bloomington.
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“I know it’s an issue,” Sims said. “But let’s look broader at what the effect that this ordinance could really, even unintentionally, create: how does this apply all around town?”
Sims said the amendment could negatively impact the unhoused community.
“I am concerned about enforcement and us criminalizing or giving the appearance of criminalizing (the unhoused community),” Sims said. “I don’t want to speak for Chamber of Commerce or any other entity, but when they come up here and give public comment about keeping public right-of-way clean, I don’t think they’re talking about trash cans; I don’t think they’re talking about scooters.”
The proposed amendment comes a month after the Board of Park Commissioners passed a policy prohibiting tents and makeshift enclosures in public parks during the daytime hours. Paula McDevitt, Director of the Parks and Recreation Department, said at a city council meeting that camping structures and makeshift enclosures prohibit the public use and enjoyment of parks.
The Bloomington Economic Development Corporation expressed their support for the legislation and noted an initiative called the economic vitality project that provides support for housing development, employment growth and ensures access to community opportunities.
“The economic vitality project is an initiative to support vibrance across our community,” Jennifer Pearl, president of the BEDC, said. “We support this legislation, but also support a holistic approach to ensure a vibrant community for everyone.”
Ultimately the amendment was struck down, with five councilmembers voting no. Councilmembers Susan Sandberg and Sue Sgambelluri were the only members to vote yes, with Councilmember Dave Rollo abstaining. Several councilmembers said it was a “half-baked amendment” and they would reconsider the legislation should city staff decide to expand upon the code proposal.