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Help! Dealing with an ADA ramp

  • Subject: [cg] Help! Dealing with an ADA ramp
  • From: Don Boekelheide dboekelheide@yahoo.com
  • Date: Sat, 1 Apr 2006 04:48:11 -0800 (PST)

Hi, 'green brain trust',

Our garden project serving the homeless faces a
decision-making crisis coping with a ramp required by
the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Has anyone met ADA ramp requirements in a
cost-effective way, especially through contributions,
sweat-equity work on construction, or smart design?
Has anyone used a lift (I know, it sounds nuts to me,
too) where a ramp wouldn't work or cost too much?
Anyone have any good contacts or resources on ramps
and access? - the how-to, since the 'why' is obvious.

In a nutshell (the whole story follows), city zoning
will revoke the current  temporary certificate of
occupancy for the Urban Ministry Center's new building
- effectively shutting down services to the homeless -
unless the Center creates an ADA ramp to their new
garden behind the new building. The contractor says an
ADA ramp will cost a cool $16,000.

Center management has responded by advancing two
options: Plan A, formally shut down the Center's
garden program, wall off the garden space, and at
least on paper call it quits (while maybe having 'some
kind of garden' 'appear' in the space at some later
date...); or Plan B, get influential political
contacts within the community to put pressure on
Zoning to drop the requirement. Currently, if Plan B
fails, we do Plan A.

No one in senior management or among the professionals
seems to be seriously considering building the access
ramp. Drawings of the architect and contractor's
expensive plan do not even show the garden in total,
it appears to be a slapdash effort simply to meet the
zoning requirement. There has been only one brief
formal (and unproductive) meeting between garden
staff, management and the contractor (months ago), and
no design charette or design meeting at all involving
the architect and garden staff.

Simply put, the garden does need a ramp - now more
than ever, as they say. But the garden manager (a
small and fairly new fish) and garden supporters have
to 'sell' it to skeptical management within the
Center, and get buy-in abd engagement from the
architect and contractor. And, now, the ramp has to
meet zoning/ADA requirements.


For anyone interested, here's the background. It reads
like one of those case studies in the ACGA Growing
Communities workshop:

Urban Ministry Center just built a fancy new
multimillion dollar building (it's nice!) for our soup
kitchen, counseling and other services. The building
(of course) sits directly atop where our old community
garden used to be. We relocated the garden to a
sloping area behind the new building, and the
developer carved a 3000 ft2 flat area out of the
hillside to create a new garden space. With much
fanfare, we formed a 'Garden Angels' support group and
raised a bunch of money, enough to hire a garden
program director and buy materials to create a new
'official' garden program as part of the UMC.

The garden site sits 3 to 5 feet higher than the
adjacent parking lot. From the beginning of the
planning process, garden supporters pushed hard for
inclusion of a ramp so baby strollers, folks in
wheelchairs, and garden carts could easily reach the
garden. (Evidently, the architects did the same - but
there was no communication between architects and
garden staff). However, UMC leadership and the
contractor dismissed the ramp, for various reasons but
with an absolutely fixed decision that the ramp was
simply _not_ an option.

Therefore, after the construction ended six weeks ago,
the only formal access to the garden was up a steep
flight of 16 stairs at the highest point above the
parking lot. There remains a 20x20 sloping patch of
dirt at the far end of the garden and parking lot,
where a steep but workable path up a 3 ft rise could
be improvised - the Center Director's feeling has
been: "Look, let's get Zoning to sign off so we can
get the permit on our new building, get our services
running, then we can improvise a garden path of our
own there..."

Things don't always work out - The zoning inspector
has now intervened and ordered: "This garden needs an
ADA ramp".

So, the garden space is currently blocked off with
danger signs and fencing, with entrance forbidden. The
new building was allowed to open and the place is now
a beehive of activity. Unfortunately, the temporary
permit will expire in a few days, pending resolution
of the garden issue.

UMC management feels it must either opt for an ADA
ramp required by Zoning, or abandon - at least on
paper - the garden program. In a way, the option of
saying "we're abandoning the garden, but 'wink wink,
nod nod' really putting in a garden..." in has its
appeal - but how do you explain that to the 'Garden
Angels' and the homeless folks who'd like to get their
garden going again? And who gets carted off to the
pokey for violating the zoning rules if some right
wing pol or zoning zealot decides to make an issue of

Any thoughts or similar situations or technical ideas
greatly appreciated.

Don Boekelheide
Urban Ministry Center Gardenworks
Charlotte, NC

 (at least, for another week or two...I'm busy
cultivating every other site I can find on the
property and piling up mountains of donated compost in
various spots since I can't get into our 'main'
garden- that should get some attention...)

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