Local publishers are crying foul over a city ordinance passed last week by the Fort Collins City Council that increases restrictions on news racks throughout, particularly in the downtown area.
The ordinance comes amidst concerns of a lack of maintenance and increasing numbers of downtown news racks.
David Short, executive director of the Fort Collins Downtown Business Association, says the new ordinance will benefit the city.
“We’re happy about it,” Short said. “We think it will help clean things up.”
The ordinance will mean a number of restrictions for publishers wishing to use news racks for distribution in Old Town as well as the greater Fort Collins area. The most drastic change sees all publications distributed in Old Town to be contained within condominium units, not the individual news racks currently in use. Whereas the old racks where paid for by the individual publishers, the newer racks will be paid for by the city and the Downtown Development Authority.
The condominiums will be placed at nine locations throughout downtown Fort Collins, determined by city employees with help from local publishers.
Despite some cooperation, many local publishers say the city has overstepped its authority. Publishers are now limited in the number of locations at which they can distribute their product.
Josh Johnson of the Rocky Mountain Chronicle predicts that the new regulations will be bad for business.
“This is an unnecessary injury to our ability to do business,” Johnson said.
Papers like the Chronicle, which lack a strong subscription base, rely on community exposure for business, which could be limited the city’s plans for racks.
The new ordinance also includes rules for individual news racks located outside of the downtown area. News racks must now be at least two feet away from curb faces, three feet away from marked crosswalks, and five feet away from fire hydrants and emergency facilities.
News racks cannot be placed on any portion of an access ramp for disabled persons, and racks must remain reasonably free of dirt, grease, chipped or faded paint, trash and graffiti.
Many in the Fort Collins publishing industry say the ordinance infringes upon First Amendment rights to free speech, but city managers say they’ve weighed the concerns of publishers against the community.
But city officials say they were careful to ensure that no conflict arose over freedom of speech, citing time, place and manner restrictions as their grounds for being able pass the ordinance. Because of this, officials argue, the ordinance does not deal with the actual content of publications, and does not infringe on freedom of speech.
“We went through quite a process to be as fair as possible and be sensitive to First Amendment concerns,” said Doug Hutchinson, Fort Collins mayor.
Staff writer Bijah Gibson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org