Accessibility

Wheelchair ramp fee for businesses waived

Wheelchair ramp rules fixed after complaint to mayor on radio show

Suzy MacLean on ramp in front of Woozles bookstore   Geordie Summers-Lubar

A call to Mayor Mike Savage on a radio show has led to a victory for wheelchair users and the small businesses that serve them.

In November 2015, Mike Savage was doing a call-in show on CBC Radio when Liz Crocker, the owner of the children’s bookstore, Woozles, called in. She told Savage she was fed up with paying a sidewalk encroachment fee to the municipality, just so she could maintain a ramp from the sidewalk to Woozles’ front door.

Suzy MacLean, Crocker’s daughter, is the manager at Woozles. She says it’s not fair to punish businesses for being accessible.

“We have a lot of strollers that come into this store; we also have some customers with wheelchairs,” she says. “And of course, the ramp helps both of them.”

The fees, which are $1.00 per 0.1m2 of encroachment, are charged to property owners who take up space on sidewalks that are supposed to be for pedestrians. They also have to buy a one-time encroachment license for up to $125.00, according to a staff report.

MacLean says that after the radio show, Savage called Woozles immediately.

“He wanted to waive this year’s fees until he could sit down and figure it out and then came by the store, actually — and met with my mom to say that he wanted to look into this further,” she says.

Over a year later on Jan. 10, 2017, during the year’s first Halifax Regional Municipality council meeting, councillors voted unanimously to eliminate sidewalk encroachment fees for the purpose of accessibility.

“We want to promote accessibility,” Savage says. “Businesses and residents should not be penalized for doing the right thing.”

MacLean says the bylaw change is great news.

“The city should have it in their interest to be helping people, so it makes perfect sense to me,” she says.

Savage thanks Crocker for pointing out the issue.

“I think everyone would recognize that it’s wrong,” he says. “But it took someone to call a radio station to raise it.”