By Jennifer Sierra
At last night’s city council meeting, the city council in Bellevue, Kentucky was put on the defensive. A group of Bellevue citizens showed up to contest a requirement by the city to dismantle a wheelchair ramp put up last November. The ramp had only been up for a few days and was constructed by some local citizens to enable a paraplegic man, Gerry Wright, to enter his apartment located at the Corner or Ward and Center. Paralympian and Bellevue citizen, Jake Counts, who helped build the original wheelchair ramp, said to council, “I feel like my friend’s civil rights are getting violated. I believe in this city and I feel like we can resolve this.”
Councilman Salzman responded, “All I can say is that I am sorry that it has taken me this long to reach out to you and to sit down with you. It has taken me almost 6 weeks before we began this 6 week process.”
Bellevue citizen, Tim Vogt, addressed council about the issue as well. “I keep asking myself why this is happening. Maybe it is policy and codes. Why can’t we change those? Please tell the staff to change to codes so that we can give people an opportunity to live in Bellevue even if they use wheelchairs. If it is about setting precedent, I think we have to consider the difference between a wheelchair ramp and a porch or a fence. Wheelchair ramps need to be given automatic opportunity to be used. Stop policies and codes that discriminate against our neighbors.”
Council member Steve Guidugli broke the long moment of silence with a question, “Anybody care to give a clarification or history why the ramp was removed and what happened?”
City administrator Keith Spoelker responded, “For any kind of construction or intrusion into the public right-of-way, we ask that the owner submit a permit. In both cases, this didn’t happen. I don’t want to make light of it but it is no different than someone building a deck out over a sidewalk. We will work through this somehow. It all starts with a permit.”
According to Spoelker, the real problem is that the landlord of this property never submitted plans to the city nor did they apply for a permit. The process of permitting isn’t just about proper building codes and for the city to make money on application fees. The permitting process ensures that the ramp is ADA compliant and that it is constructed safely and to code. A structure like this needs to be inspected in order to keep injuries and lawsuits from happening.
Jake responded, “In the scenario your are laying out right now, the tenant is powerless.”
Spoelker said, “Everything in our process is driven by the owner of the property.”
Mayor Riehl added that it is not the legal right of a tenant to make structural improvements to a property that they don’t own.
“If your landlord isn’t interested, it is tough on affordable housing,” Jake said.
Council member Guidugli said, “I wouldn’t rent from him berasure he’s not helping you either.”
After much debate and discussion, the council finally agreed to give the city administrator, Keith Spoelker, until Friday to find a temporary alternative that will allow these tenants to access their home on a ramp with the requirement that the landlord fill out the proper paperwork and proper plans within a yet-to-be determined period of time.
Council member, Matt Olliges addressed an anonymous letter sent to him and the media. The Bellevue Dayton Sun received the anonymous letter at the beginning of December. “This is the first anonymous editor letter I received about myself and I thought I would address it. It is about my renovation at my new house on Observatory. I typically don’t respond to anonymous editor letters because there is no one to respond to,” Olliges said.
The letter that was sent out accuses Olliges of not having the required permits to complete construction and that he used contractors that didn’t have occupational licenses with the city. “The facts are that I have worked with the city since day 1. I applied for and was issued dumpster permits. I asked the administration if I needed a building permit and I was told I did not based on my scope of work so I did not apply for one. My scope did change in the middle of the project. Any of you that have ever done a renovation can appreciate, I am sure. Because of the change, I applied for and was issued a permit that I paid for. I met with the city administration to make sure all the permits I applied for were paid for. There is some confusion about my deck being covered by my building permit and it was not. I subsequently came in and paid for that. I checked with Keith and Mary to see if all of my contractors had their licenses. As far as I understood, everything was in order. We went through the NKREA group to make sure no ethical violations had occurred. We were given a written opinion that the ethics code was not violated and the recommendation that the city deal with me as a private citizen based on the policies and procedures for the permit. At that point I was fined for not having the proper permit from the start given my scope change. I paid the fine, thought that was the end of it but, apparently it wasn’t because of some rumors still being stirred up. I am not sure why the claims were initially made. For almost 8 years, I have been open, honest and approachable so I would encourage people that have questions of me in the future, to ask me or someone on council so that we can make sure the matter is resolved. Thank you.”
The next Bellevue City Council meeting will be changed from its normal night to 2/17/16 which is the same night as fire board meeting.
2/2/16 is the next planning commission meeting. They will be discussing the harbor green request for a lot split.
Another public meeting to discuss the Sign variance for Darkness Brewing will be held on 2/4/16 at 7:00 PM st the Callahan Center. Bed and Breakfast ordinances will also be discussed at that meeting.