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Council debates access policy

RAMPS LIKE this one make it possible for those who can’t use stairs independently to access buildings. - LAUREN BENN PHOTO
RAMPS LIKE this one make it possible for those who can’t use stairs independently to access buildings.
— image credit: LAUREN BENN PHOTO

CITY COUNCIL rejected the first draft of a policy to hold city events in wheelchair accessible venues “whenever possible.”

The policy was initiated last November at the final meeting of Terrace’s former council.

It was sparked after members of a local committee dedicated to accessibility and inclusion for seniors and those with disabilities couldn’t attend the Chamber of Commerce Business Excellence Awards because they couldn’t access the venue.

It read, “whenever possible, the City of Terrace will host public City events or invitation-only city events at venues that provide adequate accessibility for persons with physical disabilities.”

Holding city events in accessible venues was the final policy brought forth by former councillor Carol Leclerc, who intended for the city to take a leadership role in Terrace becoming more accessible, especially with an aging population.

“We’re giving a message to the hospitality industry that we want (Terrace) to be more accessible,” said Brian Downie at the Jan. 23 council meeting.

Acting mayor Bruce Bidgood agreed with its intent but criticized the policy’s wording.

“I have an objection to it,” he said. “Whenever possible could be whenever it’s convenient.”

He added that unless there’s some over arching circumstance that makes using an accessible venue impossible, the city must be seen to be upholding its own policy.

He suggested that should the city deviate from it, the decision come before council for approval first.

Councillor Marylin Davies agreed about re-wording the policy.

“It’s got to have some teeth,” she said, meaning a policy must be strong and also enforceable.

But, Davies pointed out that spaces large enough to hold the biggest events in town, other than the Best Western Hotel which is not accessible, is Terrace’s sportsplex.

She said she’s also concerned about isolating the business community that has helped carry the city through some tough economic times.

“These are people who do their taxes and run their businesses in our town,” she said.

Local business owner Gus Gerdei can attest to the expense of making an accessible venue.

Gerdei owns two establishments in the same building, the Back Eddy Pub which has wheelchair access via a ramp, and the Bavarian Inn located upstairs, which does not.

He said that to install a lift for upstairs would cost in the $50,000 range, adding that becomes more expensive while paying interest on a loan.

“That’s a big, big cost and I don’t have that loose change,” he said, adding a couple of times in the past people have been carried up the stairs there.

But while Davies acknowledged financial challenges to business owners due to expensive upgrades, she said she thinks the overall message has “good intent.”

It was decided in council that evening that the policy would be re-written.

The new draft will be brought back before council again for approval.

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