ByWard Market building owner facing $2,500 permit fee for wheelchair ramp

A ByWard Market property owner says the City of Ottawa is charging him an unnecessarily heavy fee to give customers with disabilities access to a pharmacy in his building.

Temporary ramp gives customers access to pharmacy during construction

Tony Bascelli installed this wooden wheelchair ramp outside his property at 298 Dalhousie St. to give customers of one of his tenants, a pharmacy, access during construction. (CBC)

A ByWard Market property owner says the City of Ottawa is charging him an unnecessarily heavy fee to give customers with disabilities access to a pharmacy in his building.

Tony Bascelli said he was asked by Shoppers Drug Mart to build a temporary wheelchair ramp at the pharmacy's Dalhousie Street entrance after another tenant's construction project created hazards near the store's permanent accessible door at the rear of the building.

The store's narrow main entrance at the corner of Dalhousie and Clarence streets is at the top of three stone steps, and is not accessible to customers with mobility issues.

Believing time was of the essence, Bascelli built the wooden ramp without obtaining a temporary encroachment permit from the city, a requirement under city bylaws.

"I didn't want to try to get a permit," he said. "I knew it would take a lot of time, and they needed the ramp right away."

Realizing he was taking a chance, Bascelli decided he'd "just deal with whatever came after."
Shoppers Drug Mart customer Bob Brown said he's disappointed with the city's decision to 'penalize' the building owner. (CBC)

Hefty encroachment fee

What came after was a hefty bill for encroaching on the city sidewalk.

The ramp soon drew the attention of bylaw officials. About 10 days after he installed the ramp, Bascelli was first asked to remove it. After further consideration the city retracted that request and issued Bascelli a temporary encroachment permit.

'I don't know why it has to be that much.' - Tony Bascelli, property owner

The cost of the permit, including a daily rate and processing fees, will reach about $2,500 for the two months the ramp will be in use, Bascelli estimated.

"I don't know why it has to be that much," he said.

According to Linda Uhryniuk, a senior bylaw administrator with the city, the encroachment fee for private use of public sidewalks and boulevards is $1.43 per square metre, per day. The permit carries a daily minimum fee of $28 — the rate Bascelli has to pay for his small ramp.

Businesses that install outdoor patios and café seating pay high encroachment fees, but they can also generate hundreds of thousands of dollars a year from the installations. 

Bascelli believes that because the ramp was built with accessibility in mind, there should be different rules, especially considering the structure's size.

"The cost seemed heavy for something which protruded out into the sidewalk, three feet," he said.
Before the ramp was installed, Brown said he sometimes had to ring a doorbell to have his purchases brought out to the sidewalk. (CBC)

No discretion

But use isn't a factor when it comes to the city's encroachment bylaw, Uhryniuk explained.

"Regulations don't provide discretion; they provide the standard fee. If we received an application with a request for a review, we would also review it to see if there was merit."

Regulations don't provide discretion; they provide the standard fee.-  Linda Uhryniuk, City of Ottawa

Bob Brown, who uses a wheelchair, has lived in the ByWard Market for 15 years, and said the Shoppers Drug Mart at Dalhousie and Clarence streets is the closest pharmacy to his home.

After the store's accessible entrance was closed and before the ramp was installed at the side door, Brown said he had to ring a doorbell to have his purchases brought to him.

"It's the market, you don't want to be conducting business on the sidewalk," said Brown, who chairs the transportation committee of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities, and is a former member of the City of Ottawa's accessibility advisory committee.

Brown said he was disappointed by the city's decision to "penalize" Bascelli by charging an encroachment fee for the ramp, especially when other nearby businesses, including restaurants, aren't accessible, he said.

"The market itself is one of the most inaccessible areas in the city," Brown said. "The drugstore is providing a reasonable accommodation. There is more room here [on Dalhousie] than the sidewalks on Clarence Street."

Part of bigger problem

Chris Binkowski, co-founder of StopGap Ottawa, is on a mission to improve accessibility to businesses. (CBC)
Chris Binkowski agrees the ByWard Market has a long way to go when it comes to accessibility

Binkowski is the co-founder of StopGap Ottawa, a movement dedicated to creating a barrier-free community one ramp at a time. The ramps are built by volunteers for local businesses with single-step entrances.

"I've always bumped into places where there is just one step that's stopping me," said Binkowski. "It's super frustrating to see that on a daily basis."

That's especially true in the ByWard Market, which as a heritage conservation district faces its own hurdles toward becoming accessible, he said. There's often confusion and misinformation when it comes to accessibility, particularly in older downtown neighbourhoods.

"I think there's a lot of mixed messages, and definitely there needs to be more leadership in the city in trying to change this."