Glenwood taking steps to control panhandling
The city of Glenwood Springs is taking some initial steps to try to limit — or at least redirect — panhandling in the downtown area this summer, beginning with the removal of the pavilion on Seventh Street that sits across from several restaurants that offer outdoor dining.
Benches were removed from inside the sheltered structure earlier this spring, and the shelter itself is scheduled to be torn down soon.
The move is partly meant to control gatherings of some of the local vagrant population that prompted complaints last summer after the new sidewalk patio dining areas were installed on the south side of Seventh Street.
But the pavilion must be removed anyway to make way for the new Grand Avenue pedestrian and highway bridges starting early next year, according to Dave Betley, assistant public works director for the city.
“We are working to pull the permits, and could start taking it down in the next couple of days,” Betley said.
Glenwood City Council called for the immediate removal of the structure as it attempts to do its part to discourage panhandling and some of the more unruly behavior that has also been a problem in that part of town.
“This seemed like something we were all OK with … and I’d like to see us be proactive in changing the culture down there,” Councilman Leo McKinney remarked at a recent council meeting.
Several council members expressed concerns last fall after fielding complaints from some restaurants and other tourist-related businesses about the situation.
Council even put a caveat on funding for several relief agencies that provide food and other assistance to the local homeless population and the needy in general, asking that they explain their policies before making new funding requests. So far, that discussion has not taken place.
LIMITS ON AUTHORITY
When it comes to panhandling, little can be done to prevent it, other than enforcing the ordinances that are already on the books, according to Glenwood Springs Police Chief Terry Wilson.
Panhandling itself is not illegal, and in fact has certain constitutional protections, Wilson said.
The city does have an ordinance prohibiting panhandling at or within 100 feet of any street intersection, though.
That rule was put on the books in the early 2000s to address safety concerns with motorists stopping to give change to someone, or having people standing too close to traffic, especially at high-profile intersections such as Sixth and Grand, the I-70 off ramp and shopping center entrances.
“We do have a caveat for enforcement when it involves aggressive panhandling,” Wilson said. “If someone is being loud and aggressive or using foul language that makes people feel threatened, we can tell them, ‘No, you can’t do that.’”
But someone holding a sign or quietly asking for change or food, or the occasional street musician playing an instrument with a basket or open guitar case for people to drop money into, “that’s freedom of speech,” he said.
“For us to do anything, there has to be a behavior issue,” Wilson said. “Disorderly conduct, open containers of alcohol, fighting, things like that.”
When it comes to homelessness and the myriad issues associated with that, “we have a nationwide societal issue,” the police chief added.
“Frankly, it’s not an enforcement issue at all,” he said.
Managers of other public spaces downtown are also doing things to try to better control how those areas are used, especially during the summer.
The plaza area outside the new Glenwood Springs Public Library has been another area where random, sometimes daylong gatherings of people has led to some problems, such as smoking too close to the main entrance, and occasional conflicts with library patrons.
Library Branch Manager Sue Schnitzer said more events are being planned this summer to try to keep that area occupied and active as much as possible.
“Our goal is to hold community events on the plaza, and to use that space the best way that we can,” she said.
The plaza surface was sandblasted last fall to take care of a problem with it becoming too slick whenever it rained due to a waterproofing surface that was applied when the library was built in 2013.
Several improvements are being made to make the area more usable this year, including having umbrellas on some of the tables, Schnitzer said. The Glenwood Springs Garden Club has also been busy adding more outdoor plants to the plaza area, and the library would like to host some of the public artwork that is being planned around town.
One upcoming event will be the Bike to Breakfast the morning of June 24, when people are encouraged to ride their bikes to work and around town, and to stop by the library for some breakfast. Schnitzer said she would also would like to have live music on the plaza on the third Thursday of each month during the Day Out Downtown shopping promotions.
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The city of Glenwood Springs has proposed investing $5.76 million for street improvements in the 2020 budget.