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Lack of Accessibility at New Orillia Restaurant Angers Resident

By Mehreen Shahid, Orillia Packet & Times
Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Orillia resident Larry Wilson is disappointed by a lack of accessibility provided by a new business on Mississaga Street.

Larry Wilson is lucky enough to be Irish but not lucky enough to enjoy a pint at a new watering hole set to open in downtown Orillia.

The Orillia resident, who uses a mobility scooter, was excited as work began on the Cara Operations franchise Fionn MacCool’s.

Set to open sometime this summer, the Irish pub is rapidly completing renovations to the building that previously housed Encore.

“I just assumed because they were spending all this money, they would put in a ramp,” said Wilson. “And I was shocked when they said no.”

Having a background in business, the retiree from Saskatchewan understands it’s expensive to provide accessibility at a building, as will be mandatory by 2025 under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.

“Having said that, it’s still very disappointing,” said Wilson. “There are a million things I can’t do anymore. I can’t ski anymore. I can’t walk around a mall. I can’t go up and down street festivals. There’s all kinds of things I can’t do, and this is just one more thing I can’t do.”

For the most part, he said, Orillia is an accessible place.

“All the sidewalks are accessible; probably half the businesses are accessible; all the big grocery stores are accessible,” said Wilson. “I realize we’re a very, very small part of the population, but it’s nice to be included, and sometimes it’s a little hurtful not to be included.”

Several calls to Cara Operations were not returned.

In a letter sent to Wilson on behalf of the city, Coun. Tim Lauer explained the municipality’s position.

The city’s building department issued two building permits for renovations at 2 Front St. N., and the drawings clearly illustrated the existing entrance was not changed and only the finishes were upgraded. Hence, the renovation section of the 2012 Building Code applies here, meaning staff did not have authority to ask the owner to upgrade during a basic renovation.

“This is a provincial issue,” Lauer told the Packet & Times. “Through our local bylaw and building codes and permit functions, we can control certain things. In this case, that entrance which is the issue wasn’t significantly altered. There were no structural changes made. Therefore, it was just an esthetic change, so we have no ability to effect change regarding accessibility.”

Kelly Smith, the city’s chief building official, echoed that message.

“It was a total redo of finishes,” she said, “and because they didn’t build a new entrance or totally rip apart the old one, I had no authority to tell them to upgrade any of their accessibility issues.”

To incorporate accessibility in major renovations, building plans would have to include changes to the element under discussion, said Smith.

“This front entrance, when it was in its previous occupancy, was one step up from street level to a lobby and seven or eight steps up to the main floor, and they didn’t change any of that. And because they haven’t changed any of that, I can’t ask them to.”

All new builds must be 100% accessible, she added.

“The new Port (of Orillia) building is an example, and the new Costco,” Smith said, adding Mariposa Market recently carried out some major renovations that led to increased accessibility.

“They totally rebuilt their washrooms,” she said. “When you do that, it’s considered a whole new element to the building. And because of the addition in the back – it’s considered an addition to the building – they had to have the power doors.”

She said all building codes are available at city hall for the public’s reference.

Lauer said the city is committed to ensuring accessibility for residents, but it only has so much legislative power.

“It’s unfortunate, and we take these matters of concern very seriously, but we lack the legislation to be able to force anybody. What you hope is the owners of the business, if they can see clear to provide some sort of access, will take it upon themselves to provide that access.”

Until that happens, Wilson will be unable to enjoy a cold one at the new place.

“When they open, I plan on going up and down the sidewalk with my sign just to bring awareness to the issue,” he said. “A lot of people may think of me as a crazy, old bastard with a sign, but some people might care.”
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