State Appeals Court Upholds Visitability Ordinance
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
January 2, 2004
PHOENIX, ARIZONA--Advocates of "visitability" scored a victory in Arizona this week as the state's Court of Appeals backed a Pima County ordinance making new homes accessible to wheelchair users.
The ordinance, which was adopted by county supervisors in February 2002, requires all new single-family homes to be wheelchair accessible from the outside, have interior doorways wide enough for wheelchairs, have electrical outlets at wheelchair height and have bathroom walls designed to support grab bars.
Other such visitability ordinances have been showing up in cities across the country over the past couple of years. The idea is to make sure people with disabilities do not have physical barriers to visiting friends in their homes.
Washburn Custom Builders sued the county when it refused to approve plans for a building that did not comply with the new code. The Home Builders Association of Southern Arizona joined them in their suit, claiming that the new rule placed financial burdens on homeowners, and that the county lacked legal authority to impose such restrictions on single-family homes.
The appellate court rejected those arguments along with claims that the ordinance is unconstitutional.
Appellate Judge Peter Eckerstrom wrote that the government has a legitimate interest in increasing the number of single-family homes accessible to those in wheelchairs, because "approximately 41 percent of the people over the age of 65 have some form of disability." Eckerstrom added that although not all of those people will be using wheelchairs, the rapid growth of the older population gave the supervisors enough legal reason to impose the new rule.
The county also argued that the cost of complying with the new regulations would be between $100 and $200.
Washburn's lawyers said that they plan to appeal the decision to the state Supreme Court.
Regardless of the outcome at the higher court level, William Altaffer, an attorney who has been working on visitability rules across the state, told the Arizona Business Gazette that the appeal court's decision should help persuade other communities, such as Tucson and Phoenix, to enact similar restrictions.
"S. Arizona builders lose appeal" (Arizona Business Gazette)