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Accessibility issue fuels complaint against city, chamber


Tigard leaders say city will stop hosting events in chamber building

by: TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Karen Crichton, right, is a founding member of the group Tigard First, which advocates for more transparency in city affairs. Crichton has filed a complaint against the city for its ongoing relationship with the Tigard Area Chamber of Commerce, which houses some city meetings and receives grant funding from the city.A Lake Oswego woman has filed a federal disability discrimination complaint against the city of Tigard for its relationship with the local chamber of commerce.

Karen Crichton, a founding member of the local political action group 'Tigard First,' filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice in late October saying the city regularly uses the chamber’s facilities for community meetings and provides funding to the organization despite the fact the chamber does not provide access for disabled people to those events.

To view the city's report into the complaint, click here.

“(The Tigard Area Chamber of Commerce) holds events, training and seminars for chamber members and to members of the public,” Crichton wrote in her complaint, which was filed with the Justice Department on Oct. 28. “These gatherings are frequently held in an upstairs meeting room with no ramp or accessible accommodations. One must climb a full flight of stairs to enter this room.”

Crichton, who is physically disabled and cannot climb the stairs, said there have been meetings in the past that she would have attended, if she had access.

“I can’t go up there,” she told The Times last week.

Located at 12345 S.W. Main St., the Chamber of Commerce building was constructed in 2001 in downtown Tigard.

It regularly holds meetings in the Pearson Community Room located upstairs. The only access to the second-floor conference room are two staircases. Its website and other promotional materials state the building is not accessible under the American’s with Disabilities Act and warns renters of the space to plan accordingly.

Despite this, the city has used the space for community meetings for years.

City to hold meetings elsewhere

City Manager Marty Wine told The Times last week that the city had moved at least one of its meetings after Crichton complained about a lack of access for disabled attendants.

This week, city officials completed an internal investigation into the matter and said they will rethink where the city holds community meetings in the future.

“Ms. Crichton has highlighted that we should no longer use those facilities, and we are endeavoring not to do that from now on,” Wine said. “If we are holding meetings in an inaccessible place, we should put it in a place that can be accessed by everyone in the community.”

The city uses several local buildings to hold community meetings, including City Hall, the Public Works Building on Southwest Burnham Street, the Tigard Public Library, the Tigard American Legion hall and the Chamber of Commerce building.

“The relationship with the chamber and the city has multiple facets,” Wine said. “There are meetings there (at the chamber building) that have nothing to do with the city, and there are meetings that we are involved in, and some are our meetings that we hold there.”

Crichton calls for refund

Crichton said she wants to see the city stop all public funding of the organization until it installs some sort of access for disabled people.

“They are continuing to get funding, and my complaint is that the city needs to revoke all grants and cut ties until (the chamber) starts complying, and their facility is accessible to everyone.”

According to Tigard’s Finance Director Toby LaFrance, the city gave about $13,500 to the Chamber and the Chamber-run Tigard-Area Farmer’s Market this year through grants.

The chamber has also received funds through a grant program with the city’s urban renewal district.

Crichton said she would like to see that money paid back, with interest.

“It’s not the 1950s anymore,” Crichton said. “There are laws they are supposed to be following.”

But under Oregon building code, the chamber may not be legally required to offer access to its upstairs room.

According to Mark Van Domelen, a building official with the city of Tigard, when the chamber building was constructed in 2001, it was built to city and state building codes.

Chapter 11 of the Oregon Structural Specialty Code, which establishes minimum requirements for buildings across the state, calls for an accessible route to each floor of a building that is less than three stories tall, unless the floor is less than 3,000-square-feet, which the upstairs of the Tigard Area Chamber of Commerce building is.

And in its report issued Monday, the city said it was not obligated to require that grant recipients be ADA-compliant and could not ask for the money back.

But Chamber CEO Debbie Mollahan said she would love to install more access to the upstairs if the funds were available.

“We would love to have an elevator,” Mollahan said. “If we could figure out a way to get grant funding to put one in and figure that out architecturally, that would be awesome.”

The Chamber of Commerce did go through a remodel earlier this year when Sherwood-based Symposium Coffee opened its second location in the building. The chamber renovated the inside, a renovation that was partially funded by a tenant improvement grant from the city. But that project did not include any mobility access to the second floor in its designs.

“Our focus was on the first floor,” Mollahan said.

Mollahan said the chamber would also be rethinking the types of events it would hold in its upstairs meeting room.

“Going forward, any event that the chamber coordinates with the city, we will hold it in a location that is accessible to the general public,” she said.