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City Council votes against ATO rezoning, bans facial recognition technology

Council proposes climate action plan, renames Columbus Day

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9/19/21 Old ATO House, rezoning notice

A notice of request for rezoning stands in front of the old Alpha Tau Omega House on Russell Street.

Over 150 people tuned into a WebEx meeting Monday night, many of whom were adamantly against the rezoning of the historic Alpha Tau Omega fraternity house. The West Lafayette City Council agreed with the crowd — for the most part — and voted 8-1 against the rezoning.

PCM Properties initially proposed to build a mixed-use building on the land, with apartments, parking and retail space.

Dan Teder, the lawyer representing PCM Properties, which owns the lot, said ATO members didn’t re-sign their lease in 2020, so PCM looked to other options.

Councilor Nick DeBoer argued that PCM increased the rent “above market price” to drive out its tenants.

Teder also said that much of the property was damaged and in poor condition due to neglect from the fraternity residence.

Many ATO alumni attending the meeting disagreed with Teder.

“PCM denied any responsibilities for upkeeping and as a result the building is considered unfit for housing by them without these improvements,” an alumnus by the name of Kevin said in the comment section.

"In master lease agreements, they denied that flooding damage and fire escape issues were up to repair as owners and on us as tenants,” he added in a direct message to an Exponent reporter.

Banning facial recognition

Monday’s meeting quickly became a heated debate over a bill that bans the city government from using facial recognition technology. The council voted 5-4 in the initial vote to pass the bill, though Mayor John Dennis promised to veto the bill in its second and final hearing at the Nov. 1 council meeting.

Councilor David Sanders, who sponsored the bill, said the ban is two-pronged: facial recognition data shall not be used if collected, and violations will be punished with court actions.

“There is a nationwide movement to confront the extension of the use of facial recognition technology,” Sanders said. “The point is that this is the tool of ‘Big Brother.’

“If we want to confront ‘Big Brother,’ this is a tool that we should not allow government to have.”

Sanders called facial recognition an “invasion of privacy,” and said it’s been used to control and manipulate people abroad and domestically, including being used to identify Black Lives Matter protesters.

He said the purpose of the ordinance is to get a hold of a problematic technology before it’s too late.

Councilor James Blanco said while facial recognition technology is accurate in identifying white males, It has also been shown to misidentify people of color and women.

“If someone you’re trying to find is a person of color or a woman or a woman of color, ” Blanco said, “there is plenty of evidence that it’ll get you in the wrong direction and mistarget people.

“I would say even as a tool of law enforcement, it’s not good. Not at this time.”

Dennis argued against the bill, citing WL Police Chief Troy Harris’s letter claiming that banning the technology will make it harder for police to identify and catch criminals. He said he will do everything within his power to veto it.

“We have no interest in surveilling the public,” Harris wrote in the letter, “but we do have an interest in utilizing available state and federal databases to assist whenever our community members become a victim of a crime.

“The story you hear about people being arrested due to inaccurate facial recognition software is an example of human error, poor policy, and bad procedure.”

Morton School

The city council also unanimously voted to designate three new historic districts, which include Morton School and West Lafayette Fire Station on Chauncey. One of the longest surviving structures in West Lafayette, Morton school is known for its educational and architectural significance and the close partnership it once had with Purdue.

Climate action plan

Following multiple weeks of protests, the council proposed its climate action plan to reduce carbon emissions. West Lafayette intends to lower emissions by engaging local communities and businesses. Dennis said he hopes to create a “climate-resilient community” by encouraging individuals and organizations to promote environmentally friendly programs.

As part of the plan, solar panels are being installed to the wellness center and Evie car charging stations are being added in front of city hall, Dennis said.

“Industry is the one that’s giving off the most greenhouse gases,”councilor and Purdue Student Body President Shannon Kang said. “So I feel like the impacts that are a collective project should be something about addressing that emission,”

Indigenous Peoples’ Day

The city council unanimously voted in favor of changing the second Monday of October from Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

"I'm in favor of historical preservation until it comes to whitewashing history,” resolution sponsor and councilmember Kathy Parker said.

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