Huntington now has plan for improving accessibility throughout city

In what Mayor Brooks Fetters called "a historic presentation," a plan to make the city's buildings and programs accessible to all residents - regardless of ability - was presented to the Huntington Common Council on Tuesday, July 9.

The plan comes 23 years after Congress passed the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), which among its provisions requires communities to make it possible for all citizens to use city facilities and programs that are open to the public.

And just as Huntington's plan was a long time coming, seeing that plan through to fruition will also be a lengthy process. It will also be expensive - with a total cost estimated at $10.5 million.

While some "low cost, high impact" items have already been completed - Fetters cited the installation of motion detectors to automatically turn on lights in public restrooms, where light switches are too high to reach from a wheelchair - most items will be completed as money becomes available and as complaints are received, the mayor said.

The plan was developed by city staff members and local residents with the help of DLZ, a consulting firm that provides architectural and engineering services.

Steve Metzer, of DLZ, explained that an evaluation was conducted of all city-owned buildings, including fire and police stations, the airport and the landfill, as well as all city parks, sidewalks and parking areas.

"Any facility people go in to," Metzer said.
The large number of impediments to accessibility was not unexpected, he said, singling out the city's sidewalks as an example.

"You're not a young community," Metzer said. "Your sidewalks are old and in need of repair."

He also cited city parks, where play areas need to have surfaces that are hard enough for a wheelchair to negotiate but still meet safety standards in case of a fall.

Many grants are available to improve the accessibility of parks, trails and playgrounds, he noted.

The 338-page accessibility plan is available at the city's website, www.hunt ington.in.us. Choose "City" from the navigation bar at the top of the page, then select "Mayor's Office" under "Quick Links." A link to the plan is located at the bottom of the page.

In other business:

• The council approved a Main Street Huntington grant of $4,300 to Lime City Title Services, 327 N. Jefferson St., to cover half the cost of replacing the roof of that building.

Councilman Greg Davis noted his continuing objection to making taxpayer money available to only downtown building owners, and council members Jim Long and Wayne Powell joined him in the minority vote against the grant.

• Council members approved on second and final reading an ordinance to allow city officials to use first class mail, dispensing with costly certified letters, to notify homeowners that grass and weeds need to be cut.

• An ordinance increasing the fines for illegal parking in a handicapped parking space was approved on first reading, with Long casting the lone "no" vote.

Fines are currently $50 for a first violation and $100 for subsequent violations. The new fines would be $100 for a first violation, $200 for a second violation and $250 for subsequent violations.

• Council approved on first reading an ordinance that will make it easier for properties to remain in compliance with zoning ordinances if the city acquires part of the property for right-of-way.

Occasionally, the right-of-way acquisition results in the property no longer meeting setback requirements, which would normally require the property owner to file a petition for a variance with the Board of Zoning Appeals. Under this ordinance, the variance would no longer be needed and the property would be considered a non-conforming legal use.