FORT COLLINS, Colo. (AP) – Occupy Wall Street protesters in Fort Collins were told Friday to stop camping or face hefty fines.
Fort Collins city code enforcers notified the owner of the protest site in the city’s Old Town neighborhood that camping is prohibited on commercial property. The Coloradoan newspaper reports that the protesters have one week to remove a tent and camper, or the property owner will be ticketed $1,000.
The notice highlights a dispute between the protesters and city officials about what constitutes camping.
Occupy members told the newspaper they use a small camper and tent for staying warm and taking occasional, unplanned naps. They insist they are not camping.
“We’re not allowed to camp, and we’re not allowed to sleep, but we are allowed to unintentionally nap,” said Rich Crisler, a spokesman for the group who had been on the site for 18 days.
Crisler and other Occupy members said they need the tent and camper to stay warm and that city officials are curbing their right to assembly.
“It’s like, our First Amendment rights end when we go to sleep?” Crisler said. “This is a 24/7 occupation.”
The newspaper reported that property records show the land is owned by Bank of Choice. Inspectors on Friday warned the bank to address the situation or face ongoing fines of $1,000 per violation.
“A notice went out today to the property owner. It lets them know they have seven days to take care of it,” said Polly Lauridsen, the city’s code compliance supervisor. “(The owner) will get a ticket if he continues to allow it.”
Lauridsen said the city would have to prove Occupy Fort Collins members are camping on the site. She said camping can be tricky to define, but said the fact that protesters have brought in an RV and a tent means the city could make the case.
Occupy members said they are making plans to take up a collection to pay any fines on behalf of the property owner, and said they have lawyers willing to help fight any city action.
Group members discussed the city’s pending action at a “general assembly” Friday night. They agreed to reach out to the property owner and to think about things for a few days.
When the protest first began in early October, police told protesters they were allowed to be on city sidewalks continuously, but said they would get in trouble if they did anything that looked like camping.
For a while, while the weather was warm, protesters made do with chairs and blankets. But as temperatures have dropped, the encampment has grown.
The main tent is filled with spare clothing, blankets and at least one sleeping bag, and is heated by a large propane stove. The camper offers a double bed covered in blankets and a toilet for use when a nearby convenience store is closed for the night.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)