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Arnold to review handicapped parking policy

| Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Arnold Council on Tuesday postponed abolishing or taking any other action relating to handicapped parking.

Arnold officials for several months have been reviewing the city's guidelines for issuing on-street, residential parking permits near the homes of residents with state-issued handicapped-parking placards or license plates.

Concerned that the city's procedures may violate federal handicapped-parking guidelines, council on Tuesday was prepared to eliminate its permit process and remove the existing 54 spaces that previously were issued.

But when several residents protested the elimination of the parking spaces, council agreed to continue studying the issue.

Police Chief Willie Weber said when he requested the requirements for on-street handicapped parking, state and federal officials referred him to the standards used for off-street spaces in parking lots.

Those standards include width and length specifications that would be hard to apply to on-street spaces, as well as slope restrictions that would prohibit handicapped spaces throughout much of the hilly city.

Weber said he worried the city could be held liable if someone in a wheelchair was injured after rolling away from a handicapped space on a steep hill.

He said he also is concerned that if he stopped issuing permits to people on hilly streets but continued to issue them to people on more level streets, the city would run into discrimination claims.

Above and beyond the federal guidelines, Weber said they still have the problem that prompted the review in the first place: "It's an enforcement nightmare."

Weber said they run into complaints about people with handicapped placards parking in spaces someone else paid for.

He also doesn't know if people who previously were issued spots still are using the spaces; he suspects many have died or moved away.

Weber and Mayor Larry Milito said they don't see an easy resolution to all the problems.

Residents support the spaces

Alcoa Drive resident Bill Charlton said eliminating the permits wasn't fair to the people who genuinely need them. He suspects relatively few people are abusing the policy.

"You're going to make (the disabled residents) suffer for the sins of a few," Charlton said.

Charlton also noted he didn't think 54 existing permits were all that many.

But Weber said for a city as small as Arnold, that is a lot. Many larger communities, including New Kensington, have fewer permits, he said.

Upper Burrell resident Robin Cappone said the handicapped parking space in front of the Alcoa Drive house of her mother, 86-year-old Helen Campbell, helps her mother remain independent.

Cappone said she didn't think the city was correctly following federal guidelines, which she believes are applicable only to new construction and off-street parking.

She argued it wouldn't take long for a city employee, either in the police department or code enforcement, to verify whether the permitted spaces were being used appropriately.

Enforcement woes cited

Milito countered that given the many responsibilities already placed upon the police and code officers, continually checking handicapped permits and dealing with related parking complaints aren't as easy as residents were implying.

Milito and Weber said they realized some people have genuine needs for the spaces. They noted Councilman Joe Gatto and his wife have a permit and that Milito, with an artificial heart valve, also would qualify for a permit.

"I'm not an ogre," Milito said. "We want to do what's right for everybody."

John Campbell, the city's former mayor, said he worried the city could be sued if they eliminated handicapped parking. He provided council with documentation from the Disability Rights Network of Pennsylvania, which indicated people with disabilities could file a complaint under the federal Americans with Disabilities Act or through state courts.

Former councilman Scipione "Skip" Alcibiade, who was in office when the original permitting policy was approved, said he believed the city should make accommodations for people with disabilities. He suggested the city seek volunteers to help review the current spaces.

Committee will review

Council authorized Weber to form a committee to canvass the 0.7-square mile city and determine where the existing permitted spaces are located, whether those homes have parking alternatives (such as garages and off-street parking) and whether the spaces appear to be in use.

Weber said he will handle seeking the owners of the spaces.

Council did not indicate when it will make a final decision on the parking issue.

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