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Medford City Council will consider changes to camping ordinances

The City Council is scheduled to consider two ordinances on Thursday night that would change when and where the houseless can camp in cars, near private property, and in cemeteries.

Posted: Oct 21, 2021 12:03 PM

MEDFORD, Ore. — Medford City Council is set to consider two new ordinances Thursday night that would adjust where the houseless are allowed to camp overnight, in part tweaking previous ordinances in response to recent state law.

The first ordinance would loosen regulations on overnight camping in vehicles outside of willing institutions, which previously applied only to faith-based organizations such as churches. The second would do several things — creating a 20-foot "buffer" between sleeping spots and private residential property, and adding a ban on camping or sleeping in cemeteries.

In a City analysis, officials acknowledged that the sleeping or camping in cemeteries has not actually been a problem to come up thus far, but it was mentioned in recently adopted state law and not covered in previous Medford prohibited camping ordinances.

"Although staff never intended cemeteries to be a lawful area for camping, lying, or sleeping, the time-place-manner regulations adopted in April 2021 are silent on that specific issue," the analysis reads. "Staff wishes to make this restriction explicit before it becomes an actual dispute that affects funeral attendees or other individuals visiting the IOOF Cemetery for its intended purpose."

Part of the same proposed ordinance would institute a 20-foot buffer zone between allowed sleeping spots on public property and residential property. The City said that this arose from the concerns of residents along the Bear Creek Greenway.

"Based upon concerns raised by residential properties directly adjacent to the Bear Creek Greenway about livability issues created by individuals camping, lying, or sleeping directly adjacent to those residential properties, Council directed staff to bring forward an amendment creating a buffer zone between residential properties and individuals lawfully sleeping on public property," the analysis reads.

According to the City, Medford's municipal code contains an existing buffer requirement for hospital property and patients' family members sleeping in trailers or RVs on nearby residential properties “so as to avoid adverse impacts on adjacent properties” from those temporary sleeping arrangements. The ordinance would essentially expand that reasoning to include camping near all residential property.

The second ordinance would amend a 2019 ordinance that allowed churches to host people sleeping in cars on their property. At the time, this applied only to faith-based institutions and with a maximum of three vehicles.

According to the City's analysis, the Oregon legislature passed a bill this year that added flexibility to statutes on overnight sleeping, removing the religious component and vehicle number restrictions.

Medford's proposal would lift the three-vehicle limit, but would require that any number higher than three be approved by the City Manager's office. It would also allow secular non-profits and private businesses to host people sleeping in their vehicles in the same way that churches have been authorized. 

"Although there is no longer a prohibition on for-profit entities operating vehicle camping operations, it must be emphasized that charging rent would not be lawful for operations permitted under this ordinance," the City analysis reads. "This would not affect the continued viability of Asante’s RV camping operation operated off of Barnett Road, since that operation is authorized under City Manager executive order (related to the Almeda Fire emergency declaration) and not this ordinance."

The City Council is set to meet via Zoom at 6 p.m. on Thursday to consider these two ordinances, among other matters. NewsWatch 12 will provide updates on whether the ordinances pass.

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