Proposed ordinance would ban tenting in flood plain

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An ordinance the Hot Springs board of directors will consider Tuesday would ban camping on city properties that are in a floodplain, making it illegal to go along the Hot Springs Creek Greenway Trail or at the Hot Springs Farmers & Artisans Market camp.

Under the ordinance, the city would give violators 24-hour notice to clear prohibited areas. Your belongings would be kept in a safe place for up to 30 days. There would be no storage fees, prosecutor Brian Albright told the board earlier this week.

“If we know who left it, we’ll give them a receipt to come and pick it up,” he said.

State laws empower cities to take action to reduce flood damage in floodplain areas. The ordinance, which the board will consider next week, changes the city’s building and construction codes and makes it illegal to camp on city lots on the flood insurance rate map. The map outlines special flood risk areas where land use activities are limited.

The city said the ordinance doesn’t specifically apply to homeless people camping on city lots. No one would be allowed to camp in the prohibited areas. Under the ordinance, in addition to tent and sleeping bag camping, “parking a motor vehicle, RV or trailer, or mooring a watercraft for the apparent purpose of overnighting” would be illegal.

Because these are homeless camps, the ordinance is supported by an Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling, the city said. In Frank v. City of St. Louis, the court denied a homeless woman’s motion to bar the city from enforcing an ordinance prohibiting camping in certain areas of downtown St. Louis.

The plaintiff cited a 9th Circuit Court ruling in Martin v. Boise, Idaho, which invalidated Boise’s anti-camping ordinance on the grounds that it violated the Eighth Amendment by depriving the status of a person and not her criminalize behavior.

The 8th Circuit said the St. Louis ordinance was more restricted because it banned camping in certain downtown areas, rather than being a citywide ban like Boise’s.

“The City of St. Louis, therefore, does not criminalize the condition of homelessness or its inevitable consequences, such as sleeping in public,” the 8th Circuit said. “At most, the city criminalizes sleeping in public in a certain place.”

The city said the anti-camping ordinance before the board on Tuesday was restricted to only apply to city properties in flood plains.

Albright cited the St. Louis case when speaking to residents of the Beverly Hills borough last month about homelessness in the city.

“Imagine the farmer’s market,” he said. “We say no camps around the Farmers Market. You can do that, but you can’t say everywhere.”

The ordinance includes an emergency clause that would put the new law into effect immediately if approved by the board.