When Westport’s Unitarian Church was built 50 years ago, the congregation was largely young.
The church itself still looks fresh and modern. But some of those congregants are still around. And one thing they didn’t think about back in 1965 — accessibility of the sanctuary — now haunts them.
“Some members just can’t come anymore,” says Bobbie Herman. As a trustee of the church, she stands at the door and watches people struggle to get up the hill from the parking lot. A number of steep wide steps separate the lot from the front door.
There are side entrances on the lower level. But once inside, it’s a long flight of stairs to the sanctuary.
Members studied options like golf carts. But those are volunteer- and weather-dependent.
The best solution seemed to be a hydraulic lift. It’s 25 square feet, and can hold 3 people.
Planning and Zoning director Larry Bradley gave an initial okay. But he asked for a detailed survey, and discovered that with the placement of the lift and moving handicap spaces, the church would be over its legal coverage.
“Handicap ramps are exempt from coverage,” he explains. “Lifts and parking spaces are not.”
The changes needed to be in compliance — including an additional site plan, wetlands survey and work to the property — would substantially increase the cost of the lift, Herman and church building and grounds committee head Chuck Colletti say.
They’ve raised $30,000 from members so far. They don’t think they could swing the additional “huge” costs.
Colletti and Herman say that 2 acts — Americans with Disabilities, and Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons — compel them to make their church accessible to all.
The Unitarian Church is asking for a Planning & Zoning Commission text amendment, to legalize their lift and amend the definition of “total coverage” to exempt handicapped parking. They’re on the agenda this Thursday (July 16).
“All we want is a 25-square foot platform, to built a lift,” Colletti says.
“This is not about whether I like the project or not,” Bradley says. “My job is to enforce the zoning regulations, as they’re written.”