Chapel Hill revamps protest rules

kferral@newsobserver.comFebruary 15, 2012 

— The Chapel Hill Town Council approved new rules 8-1 Monday night that will prohibit overnight protests on public spaces like the recent Occupy Chapel Hill-Carrboro encampment downtown.

The ordinance asks groups to get a permit two days in advance to use Peace and Justice Plaza, the space outside the Franklin Street post office. Groups without a permit may still use the plaza up to three hours.

The old rules also required a permit, but the town waived its restrictions during Occupy's three-month stay. Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said he didn't ask that the ordinance be enforced because he supported the movement's message.

"I knew that I didn't want to see those regulations enforced because I liked the content, and that's a problem," he said. "We have to have rules that are irrespective of the content of the message and applied equally to anyone that wants to use that space."

Under the new rules, events may take place between 7 a.m. to 2 a.m., and those using the plaza must be 20 feet from the entrance to the post office or banks. Signs with some restrictions would be allowed. Violations of the ordinance would result in a $500 fine.

The new rules will remove immediately any homeless people currently camping there. A single tent, down from three after the Occupy camp disbanded, remained on the plaza this week.

Brandy McDonald, co-owner of the East End martini bar on East Franklin Street, asked the council to restore the plaza for use by all residents of Chapel Hill. "In the name of a movement, you allow numerous regulations to be broken without consequence," she said.

Chapel Hill's Downtown Partnership's board of directors voted last week to support an ordinance that bans people sleeping on the plaza overnight. The board said that spontaneous protests and gatherings should be allowed on the plaza without permits with a two-hour time limit, President Jim Norton said.

Ferral: 919-932-8746

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