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Ashton couple gets to keep temporary disability ramp for one year after public hearing


ASHTON — A local couple will be able to keep a temporary disability ramp outside their home for the next year after it was originally denied because it didn’t meet city code.

What happened

Karon Robertson and her husband, George, live in Ashton. Karon said her husband has been having health issues and recently needed a wheelchair ramp to access their home.

RELATED | Ashton woman says city denied permit for ramp so her husband could use with wheelchair; city says it did not meet requirements

So the couple had the ramp installed and filed for a permit with the city of Ashton. But the permit was denied because it did not meet the setback rules of 15 feet from the property line.

“If they don’t meet the regulations that are set forth in the city code, then the permit gets denied,” said Sara Bowersox, city of Ashton’s planning and zoning administrator, in an interview back in September. “We are bound by that public code.”

There has been a lot of community support for the Robertsons. Several people came together to help the couple submit an appeal for the denied permit. On Wednesday, a public hearing was held at the city council chambers in Ashton regarding that appeal.

The public hearing

The hearing was a packed event, with over 40 people in attendance. Bowersox presented the city’s position, while Tim Maurer spoke on behalf of Karon and George. Karon was present at the hearing. However, George was not due to being sick.

The meeting had previously been scheduled for the end of September, but city officials canceled and pushed it to November.

“It was delayed because it involved a request for a disability ramp, and so we wanted to look into whether or not the American Disability Act or the Fair Housing Act may apply in some fashion in this case,” said Sam Angell, the city attorney for the city of Ashton. “It is my opinion that we don’t need to get to the question of disability access on this particular piece of property … for the simple reason that there is adequate space in a few different variations to build a disability ramp that will access this house.”

Bowersox, like Angell, explained in front of city council members that meetings with those involved had been held to discuss what could be done for the Robertsons.

“Every alternative that I have suggested that would allow this ramp to exist and be in compliance with city laws was outright rejected. It seemed that the only thing that would be acceptable would be for the city to just allow the ramp to stay exactly where it had been installed,” Bowersox explained.

However, Karon told that the suggestions that have been given are not possible; for instance, the ramp could go into the back of their home. Karon said there’s so much snow in Ashton and there would be no way to allow a wheelchair to get through.

Maurer provided pictures during the meeting of what it looks like on Karon and George’s property during the wintertime.

winter picture

He also said he is part of the Ashton Help Network, which is a nonprofit organization created to help those in need in the Ashton community, like the Robertsons.

Maurer explained he extensively researched the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

“Unfortunately, the ADA guidelines do not always cover private homes unless they have a business within them which the Robertson’s home does not. However, fortunately for the Robertsons, the Federal Fair Housing Act (FHA), administered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, does cover private homes and almost mirrors exactly ADA requirements,” he said.

Maurer said the Planning & Zoning administrator’s proposal to move the ramp is not a reasonable accommodation.

“The denial of this wheelchair ramp for the disabled is a clear violation and is blatant discrimination aimed at the Robertsons and all others with disabilities in Ashton,” Maurer said.

Those in favor and against the wheelchair ramp

Several people spoke at the podium during the public hearing in favor of the Robertsons. They spoke about how the Robertsons deserve to have a ramp and how it’s crazy that it has gotten to this point.

Only one person spoke in opposition to the ramp and sided with the city. She is a city employee and said she loves the Robertsons but had her reasons. Her son-in-law has been in a wheelchair and has always followed the laws wherever he has moved to.

City council split on the decision, mayor breaks the tie

After comments from the public, the city council discussed their opinions. All four members were split on what to do about the ramp.

“We have laws. When we were sworn in, we swore to uphold the constitution and state laws. This is still a law until we get it modified, then that changes things,” Councilman John Kaelberer said. “If we allow this one person to do this, the next thing you know, we are going to have ramps all over town, and everybody is going to say they got to do it, why can’t I? We need to have conformity.”

Councilman Jerry Funke said the city has a lot of ordinances and laws that are outdated and that need to be brought to attention.

“We can initiate changes and amendments to laws. This is just my feelings … we should go back and look at these setbacks and laws that we have,” Funke said.

Councilman John Scafe made a motion to overturn the administrator’s decision and allow a temporary disability ramp for one year. The motion was seconded by council member Funke.

Each city council member then voted.

Scafe and Funke voted yes, while Councilwoman Teresa Hansen and Kaelberer said no. Hansen had explained she felt mixed feelings on both sides.

It came down to Mayor Tom Mattingly to break the tie and make a decision.

“I think we should grant the one year and revisit the ordinance,” Mattingly said.

Maurer told that he is happy overall for the victory and that it was a decision in the right direction.

Karon told it was a roller coaster of emotions at the meeting, but she was glad about the outcome.

“I was very happy. I was so happy and grateful to God to see all the people that supported us there, and I know there is a lot more,” she said.

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