The head of Pikes Peak Regional Building Department is resisting suggestions that the agency take on more responsibility in ensuring developments follow federal accessibility rules.
“Any time you add more red tape, you increase costs because you increase time and time is money,” Regional Building Department chief Roger Lovell said this week.
Regional Building is charged with making sure new buildings comply with accessibility standards, but its purview only extends 5 feet outside the buildings, while advocates for the disabled say it should include parking lots as well.
Among Lovell’s objections are:
• Regional Building is stretched thin meeting its responsibilities, and additional work would require hiring more inspectors and passing on the additional expense in higher fees.
• The change would also be a difficult sell to many of the governments in El Paso and Teller counties, which might be reluctant to relinquish control over such inspections to Regional Building.
One advocate for the disabled, Indpendence Center CEO Patricia Yeager, dismissed Lovell’s objections about red tape as a red herring.
“Maybe they’ve got to collaborate with the planning departments, but is that such a bad thing?” Yeager said. “And when the plumbing codes change do they say ‘We can’t afford to inspect for that so we’ll just ignore it?’ This is just as much a code to be checked on as any plumbing, electricity, the roof. This is for the safety of those with disabilities.”
Yeager also discounted the claim that Regional Building doesn’t have the money to add staff, noting the agency has consistently donated hundreds of thousands of dollars in excess revenue from permit fees to local charities in recent years.
“They’ve got money,” she said.
The Independence Center, an advocate for people with disabilities in El Paso, Teller and other counties in the region, recently surveyed 108 local parking lots. Only two of them complied with standards in the Americans with Disabilities Act, Yeager said.
An estimated 66,000 people with disabilities lived in El Paso County in 2015.
That inaccessibility also is a liability for local governments. Colorado Springs recently settled a lawsuit filed by Chris and Nikole Sweeney, which claimed systemic noncompliance with the federal standards.
Most local governments are cash-strapped and understaffed, Yeager said. Consolidating parking lot inspections within Regional Building would ensure consistency.
Meggan Herington, Colorado Springs assistant planning director, said the city picks up where Regional Building leaves off on new buildings. City inspectors review access from 5 feet outside the buildings, through parking lots to the public right of way.
But Colorado Springs and other local towns don’t have the staff to inspect existing parking lots and buildings that remain inaccessible, Yeager said.
Green Mountain Falls, for example, has two full-time employees. For accessibility inspections, the town has to hire a private contractor, said interim Town Manager Jason Wells. Wells said the town would welcome any Regional Building could provide.
Enforcement is also an issue for cities and towns, Herington said. Neither local governments nor Regional Building enforce the ADA — only the Department of Justice can do that. A further complication is Regional Building has no power to enforce city codes.
Lovell said most local governments are making progress on improving accessibility, and each should maintain their own responsibilities and priorities.
This year, the Colorado Springs City Council unanimously voted to appropriate $300,000 to hire four inspectors and an administrator to identify and resolve ADA violations.
In addition, the city’s 2019 budget has an extra $1.36 million for Colorado Springs’ ADA program.
“The needle is moving, but it’s not going to move quickly,” Lovell said.