The Stone Church plans to address accessibility

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BRATTLEBORO — Plans are underway to make a venue more accessible to individuals with disabilities involving mobility.

The Stone Church owner and manager Robin Johnson said a design for the ramp was approved about three years ago but it has not been built yet because business at the Main Street spot has been slow.

"It looks like we'll be sustainable eventually," he told the Brattleboro Design Review Committee during a meeting last week.

Accessibility issues have prevented the venue from hosting several events, Johnson told the committee. Vermont Public Radio's News & Brews event was cancelled last month due to such concerns.

"We are committed to inclusive practices in all aspects of our organization," Brendan Kinney, senior vice president of development and marketing at VPR, wrote on Facebook. "Unfortunately, we were unable to find a way to ensure full accessibility in time for the scheduled event, so we are postponing the event until we find a new location and date."

Kinney thanked The Stone Church for its willingness to host the event. He said the venue would cater and provide bar service for the event at a new date in a downtown Brattleboro establishment that is fully accessible.

At the time of the cancellation, Brattleboro Americans with Disabilities Act Advisory Committee Chairwoman Julie Tamler told the Reformer she was glad about the decision.

"It's a shame, puts people with disabilities in a bad light, we stopped this from happening, and all that," she said in an email. "But it's important that everyone wake up and make better decisions right from the start. I'm also very interested in how many people spoke up, most of whom I don't know. But it's clear that many people have difficult experiences and they don't speak up, they feel the physical and emotional pain, humiliation, hurt and anger, and they give up on going out. It takes a lot of energy to keep speaking up, and then to have this feeling that we're 'always being pushy and/or making it difficult for organizations to have events' ... it's not easy for us."

The Design Review Committee recommended that the ramp at The Stone Church not be made out of concrete so it will be less of a permanent structure, the railings should be painted black and plantings be installed on the side. The goal of the ramp is to make the venue adhere to Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines but the design has to do keeping with the historic nature of the location.

Committee members used national guidelines found in the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties to guide their advice. The committee acts in an advisory capacity to the town's Development Review Board and zoning administrator, reviewing and making recommendations on projects within what is called the Historic Resource Overlay District to ensure new development is compatible with historic preservation standards and neighborhood character among other things.

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Johnson will bring the zoning administrator his final design. His original plan for the venue called for having a ramp at the back entrance. He changed his mind, saying it will be safer to have the ramp in front.

"Because this new design," he said, "takes us out of all the snowfall, all the rainfall."

Since the roof is pitched, Johnson told the committee, snow and rain would affect entry through the backdoor more so than the front.

Committee member Robin Sweetapple suggested the ramp should be as "nondescript as possible" and fade into the building.

"OK," Johnson said. "You got it."

Committee member Barbara George encouraged Johnson to take his time and think about the project.

"It's such an important part of the town," she said. "If it's minimalist, it becomes just a matter of taste after that."

George noted that the national guidelines for historic areas suggest screening in new development with plantings if a project cannot be avoided. She said it is unfortunate that the building is not owned by a nonprofit, as grant funding could potentially be targeted for the project.

Committee member Maya Hasegawa recommended a thinner rather than thicker railing.

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com, at @CMaysBR on Twitter and 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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