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Panhandling, Chik-Fil-A items get the nod at Grand Forks City Council meeting

The first Grand Forks City Council vote to repeal an anti-panhandling ordinance passed quietly on Monday night, winning a 5-0 vote from the council.

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The first Grand Forks City Council vote to repeal an anti-panhandling ordinance passed quietly on Monday night, winning a 5-0 vote from the council.

The law will head before the City Council again -- but the next time, it’ll be on the verge of repeal.

The ordinance prohibits panhandling, political pamphleting and the like near locations including “any roadway, highway, street, alley, intersection,” to name a few. Given a series of court rulings across the country during the past several years, City Attorney Howard Swanson has noted that the law likely wouldn’t withstand a First Amendment-based challenge.

The meeting was unexpectedly quiet given the doubts expressed by city leaders when the repeal was considered in committee last week . City Council President Dana Sande had referred to the law as a potential law enforcement tool -- one that might be helpful for police when interacting with potential violators, even if it wasn’t used to cite them.

“I didn’t feel the need to rehash the discussion,” council member Jeannie Mock said on Monday. “To me, the biggest item was -- Mr. Swanson said it’s not defensible in court. If we were taken to court, we would stand to lose.”

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Council member Bret Weber agreed, and pointed out the ordinance’s rare use.
Grand Forks Police Lt. Derik Zimmel spoke to the Herald last week about the law. Calls for service related to the law -- in which an officer is dispatched -- are at 23 for the year. They totaled 23 in 2012; 15 in 2013; 18 in 2014; and 28 in 2015. There have only been four citations since the beginning of 2011, he said, and none in 2015 or 2016.

Asked if a repeal of the law would cause any problems for local law enforcement, Zimmel said that the police always have “tools at our disposal” to deal with people who act suspiciously.

The law still needs a second reading by the council before it can be repealed.

Chik-Fil-A The City Council also voted 5-0 to permit changes to the roadway along South 31st Street, where a potential Chik-Fil-A is expected near Texas Roadhouse and 32nd Avenue South.

The changes allow for drivers along South 31st Street to turn directly into the Texas Roadhouse parking lot while heading northbound, providing what city officials say is a faster and more efficient route into the lot.

Costs and a timeline for development aren’t immediately clear. City Planner Brad Gengler said the area is privately owned.

Despite statements from a spokeswoman for Chik-Fil-A last month that the company “does not have any locations to confirm” in Grand Forks, Gengler pointed out that the amount of resources spent planning for the site makes it seem likely that a new location will materialize.

Other business The Jobs Development Authority, of which all members of the City Council are members, met immediately before the City Council and voted 6-0 to sell property at 1003 S. 46th St.

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The property, which is owned by the JDA, was purchased by Wood Products, Inc., for the asking price of $330,000. The money will go to a special grant fund administered by the city -- the same fund from which it was initially purchased.

Both Sande and council member Danny Weigel were absent from the council and JDA meetings.

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