A four-year battle by Warren resident Tony Baker has resulted in the City of Warren moving to enhance Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines with regard to its building and property maintenance codes.
Baker, who has rheumatoid arthritis, has carefully logged information about ADA parking at Warren businesses and notes that many are not in compliance with ADA guidelines. He brought this to the attention of the previous Warren City Council and again to the current council when it was elected in November, 2019.
“There is a problem especially with a lot of the strip malls,” said Baker. “They tend to have all of the accessible parking spaces clustered in one spot. But they are supposed to be located so that there are some accessible parking spaces close to the entrance of each business, not all in the middle or at one end.”
Warren City Council is set to give the proposed ADA ordinance a first reading at its Nov. 24 meeting. Suggested changes can then be made by the city’s legal department at which time the ordinance is submitted back to council for a vote. District Two councilman Johathan Lafferty has championed the ordinance for Baker, who resides in his district.
“I think this is a good first step,” said Lafferty. “It is not perfect and it needs some revisions but it does represent what Mr. Baker and myself have been working toward. He and I have had lengthy conversations over the past year and I understand what he envisions for the city.”
The new ordinance adds to Section 9, which governs buildings and building regulations, of the city’s Code of Ordinances and Chapter 28, which outlines property maintenance regulations.
“This is what I’ve been working for as long as they enforce the parking when the ordinance is written and that there is not a loophole where a business does not have to comply with the ordinance until a renovation,” said Baker. “That could be another 30 years that they do not have proper parking.”
Lafferty agrees and says a six-point plan he introduced in January of 2020 would build on the ordinance and help businesses become ADA compliant within a limited timeframe.
“I didn’t want to go after businesses with an ‘you shall do this or else’ approach,” said Lafferty. “Instead, let’s help our businesses become compliant. Many of our local businesses are trying to survive right now. I don’t want this to come down in some draconian measure; I want businesses to know we are here to help them come into compliance.”
Warren’s proposed ADA ordinance includes:
● An ongoing self-evaluation of city buildings and accommodations will continue, and be updated to include community input, a survey, and a coordinated action and funding plan to achieve full public accommodation and compliance with Title ll of the ADA.
● Any change in use or occupancy, entrance, or structural renovation will require compliance with accessibility standards. A parking lot improvement will require full compliance for the parking lot, entranceway and access routes, to the extent required by law.
● A city audit of maintenance of ramps, signs, walkways and parking will be conducted by property maintenance inspectors - the audit will be completed within one year of the ordinance, and the order of priority will be based upon the following categories: restaurants; grocery stores and markets; pharmacies; medical care offices; general retail and other.
● The city will coordinate with the Tax Increment Finance Authority and the Downtown Development Authority to explore grants or loans to businesses to encourage upgrades to accessibility standards.
● Every building permit will flag the business for a site visit to audit ADA/International Code Council/American National Standards Institute compliance.
● Building permits will include the condition that the owner/contractor comply with the ICC/IANSI standards of Barrier Free Design.
● The city will make flyers available to small businesses with information on the tax credits allowed under ADA or Fair Housing Act.
● The city will make ADA Complaint forms available to citizens.
Although the ordinance states that self-evaluation of city buildings will continue, Baker and Lafferty note that parking at the new Warren Civic Center South, which opened late in 2019, is actually not in compliance with ADA guidelines. Accessible parking spaces are not the closest to the entrance and there is not a ramp properly placed on the curb to allow for wheelchair or scooter access.
Lafferty said this is just one example of the city administration’s lack of attention to ADA matters. He and Baker have also been critical of the All Access Warren program which asks businesses to self-report ADA compliance using a form that is available on the cityofwarren.org web site. Surveys are reviewed by volunteers and if a business is deemed to be 75% in compliance, they are given an All Access Warren sticker to display at their business.
Mayor James Fouts agrees the program, which was put into place by the city’s former Diversity Coordinator, needs a revamp and when the city hires a new diversity coordinator, he would like to see that person take the reigns of the program. Lafferty believes All Access Warren could be removed and instead, the new ordinance can be used to make businesses more compliant.
“The things that have been in place for ADA compliance are just window dressing,” said Lafferty. “I would suggest a complete abandonment of All Access Warren, the Disabilities Commission and anything else the administration has done to make people think it is complying with ADA law. No one was inspecting these businesses before giving them an All Access Warren sticker so you could fill out the form but really not be in compliance. There is no grey area with this; you are either in compliance or you are not.”
Fouts gave credit to Baker for being so persistent in his quest to improve the quality of life for the city’s disabled residents and to Mary Michales from Warren’s legal department for writing the new ordinance. Public Service Director Gus Ghanam also had input into the ordinance.
“This has been a terrible long-time coming,” said Lafferty. “Former councilwoman Kelly Colegio first took up the ADA torch and I am proud to continue on. No one knows when they are going to need special accommodations, so we want to make sure we do this correctly the first time. I’m happy we are finally making progress and I believe generations of Warren residents will be able to reap the benefits of this work.”