Dan Larson had a simple request for the city of University Place as it prepared to install a sidewalk and bike lane in front of his home on Elwood Drive West.
Larson — who’s been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis — wanted a cut-out for a future driveway so he could “get off the street safely and out of my vehicle.”
“And I’m being told no,” he said.
Larson has filed an Americans with Disabilities Act complaint against the city. He’s also been looking into case law to support his position.
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“I don’t know how far I’m going to have to take this,” he said.
Larson, 55, was diagnosed with MS three years ago. Already walking with a cane, he knows one day soon he will be in a wheelchair.
He has owned the home in the 4300 block of Elwood Drive West for 16 years. He rents it to his children and lives in Parkland with his wife.
Larson says his diagnosis will force them to sell their Parkland home and move back to University Place, where the mortgage is almost paid off.
When that day comes, modifications to the home will be needed. That includes making it easier to get inside.
A garage at the back of the house is served by a private road, but the simplest way into the house is through the front door, Larson said.
Now it looks as if that won’t be possible because the sidewalk foundation has been laid. Work is progressing quickly on the $1.14 million project to add sidewalks and a bike lane to the residential roads leading to Curtis High School.
Jack Ecklund, UP’s director of engineering and capital projects, said city code and federal grant requirements restrict the city’s response.
Because Larson does not have a driveway at the front of his house, and building one would violate city code, the city hearing examiner would have to make an exception to city regulations for him to add one, Ecklund said.
Larson can file an application with the examiner for that exception, but there is no guarantee the examiner would approve it.
He wants something new, a new driveway to be put in. There’s not a responsibility of the city to provide that.
Jack Ecklund, University Place director of engineering and capital projects
City code prohibits driveways within 75 feet of each other in that area, Ecklund said. Almost every home except Larson’s has a driveway to Elwood Drive.
Larson thinks it’s unfair to require him to pay additional costs of the hearing examiner process when his neighbors didn’t have to pay for their approaches.
The majority of the sidewalk project is covered by $811,000 from the federal Safe Routes to School program. The money comes with limitations.
“We’re allowed to build a driveway approach where something exists,” Ecklund said. “He wants something new, a new driveway to be put in. There’s not a responsibility of the city to provide that.
“Certainly we’re sympathetic to his concerns, but we’re limited by what we can do.”
Larson points to at least two other homes where the city built driveway access, even though there is no driveway. A few homes away. the sidewalk dips to allow car access to a backyard. There is no driveway and a single chain link gate is the only way in.
Ecklund said that was added because historically there was an entry point to the backyard. There is a driveway and garage out front.
Larson previously had a gravel area at the front of his house to park a car. The sidewalk will go over the gravel.
Larson contacted Mayor Javier Figueroa with his concerns. Figueroa forwarded the information to City Manager Steve Sugg with a request to follow up.
In most cases, the mayor said, city staff members try to fill resident requests.
After talking to a reporter last week, Figueroa said he would talk to Sugg immediately to discuss the city’s response. If action by the City Council could help the situation, Figueroa said he would “be the first to put it on the agenda for a study session.”
But after reviewing a report from city staff members Monday, Figueroa said the council would have to break the rules to help Larson.
“It would set a precedent for how our city does business with our residents,” the mayor said. “At this point it is not the right time in this situation to help a citizen out.”