I have serious problems. I go to government meetings for fun.
Last night, I accompanied a couple of activists for the disabled to a special meeting of the Village of Fayetteville Historic Preservation committee. The issue was an application to rehabilitate a building in Fayetteville’s historic district and open a branch of Skaneateles Jewelry. Since I was born, raised and educated in Fayetteville, I thought I’d tag along and see what my homies were up to.
The meeting was interesting and entertaining for several reasons:
1) The owner of the jewelry store was not opposing American with Disability Act requirements for accessibility, in fact his architect had designed a relatively elegant ramp, utilizing both the brick of the building and the historic limestone already a part of the crumbling steps to the building.
2) The chair of the Historic Preservation Committee opened the meeting, then immediately recused himself, announcing that he was the architect for the applicant in question. He led the discussion, both for the arguments in favor of the project and by informing the other members of the committee about the rules, regulations and procedures of village code and committee protocol.
3) The crowd of about 10 people could ask questions at any time, simply by raising their hand (or just waiting for a lull in the conversation.) The crowd was split between residents in the historic district, disability activists and the owner of the proposed store.
4) After approving small pieces of the project (signage, door replacement) the committee split 3-2 against the ramp. The two in support were solicitous of the time, effort and money the applicant had put into the decaying building. They also made eloquent statements about the need to accomodate the disabled with dignity and not relegating the accessible entrance to the rear or a side alley. The three opposed were all seemingly more solicitous of the pile of decaying limestone in front of the building than any arguments of the rights of the disabled or the need to accomodate someone willing to make a large investment in the village’s economy.
This is preservation run amok. The proposal wasn’t the equivalent of sticking a garish neon and plastic business in the middle of a historic district, it’s an issue of basic access into the building at the front door. The building wouldn’t undergo any significant aesthetic change, despite the nonsensical statement of one committee member that the front would now be “massive.”
The only real change would be a building that is now usable, rather than a hulking abandoned shell.
The options are to ask for an appeals hearing to the village Planning Board seeking a reversal on the basis of economic hardship or to give up on accessibility altogether, something disability activists would fight, but that historic district status may allow.
In the meantime, the words of one Historic Preservation committee member ring loudly: “I’d hate to be a person in a wheelchair and have to live in Fayetteville.”