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Crumbled walkway at WestShore Plaza prompts calls for discrimination complaint

Charlie Morrow, left, and Gloria Mills show a hole in pavement at WestShore Plaza they say is hazardous to persons with disabilities. The walkway’s painted portion angles away, but a person with impaired vision could walk into the hole. 

DANIEL WALLACE | Times

Charlie Morrow, left, and Gloria Mills show a hole in pavement at WestShore Plaza they say is hazardous to persons with disabilities. The walkway’s painted portion angles away, but a person with impaired vision could walk into the hole. 

TAMPA — Gloria Mills doesn't want pity because she and her husband are legally blind.

She she just wants WestShore Plaza to fix a crumbled patch of walkway on the mall's property that's caused them to limit their visits there for fear of getting hurt, she said Thursday.

"I don't like to think of myself as a weak person. I'm only blind," Mills said. "I shouldn't have to live my life in fear because of something that could have been repaired."

Hoping to push property owners into action, the Tampa-Hills­borough Human Rights Council sent a letter Thursday asking federal authorities to investigate a disability discrimination complaint from Mills, her husband and a third Tampa resident who uses a wheelchair. All three rely on the public bus system and frequent HART's transfer station at the mall.

Ahmed Bedier, president of the local Human Rights Council, held a news conference Thursday outside WestShore Plaza, calling the lack of repair a show of arrogance by mall officials.

"They need to do the right thing and fix this hole," Bedier said.

His letter to the Justice Department's Disability Section comes amid ongoing litigation between Hillsborough's transit authority and WestShore Plaza.

Hillsborough Area Regional Transit sued WestShore Plaza after more than two years of back and forth over the pothole.

Like the Human Rights Council's letter, HART accuses WestShore Plaza of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act.

WestShore Plaza general manager Jay Botsch said the mall "deeply cares about our patrons, the disabled and anyone who visits our property."

"It's unfortunate that Mr. Bedier felt the need to take this step," Botsch added.

In February, Botsch told the St. Petersburg Times that they were prepared to resolve the dispute "amicably" with HART. That hasn't happened.

"We've made attempts to talk with them," Botsch said Thursday, declining to give details.

He added, "We're made to look like the party that's unresponsive, and that's not been the case."

HART attorney Clark Jordan-Holmes said the hole, located near the bus terminal behind a mall parking garage, developed after a sewage line repair in 2002. The two sides disagree on who should pay for the repairs. A report prepared by Jordan-Holmes for HART officials discloses other disputed issues:

• WestShore Plaza owns and controls the property. HART does not.

• WestShore Plaza designed and constructed the area. HART did not.

• WestShore Plaza, not HART, installed the sewer lines that appear to be causing the problems.

Other issues include WestShore Plaza's objection to giving HART its construction files and a report on the current condition of the sewer problem.

Jordan-Holmes sent a letter this week to WestShore Plaza's attorney, saying that requests to have HART pay for unknown or hidden problems without a total cost estimate wouldn't be a good-faith effort to resolve the matter. The letter also said HART has "repeatedly sought to resolve this matter through open and honest negotiation or mediation."

"HART does have a duty to maintain its defined transit amenities above ground, such as its bus shelters," the letter said. "It has no duty to fix your defective design and/or work, whether it relates to your underground sewers or other unrelated improvements you have made."

Crumbled walkway at WestShore Plaza prompts calls for discrimination complaint 05/14/09 [Last modified: Friday, May 15, 2009 12:10am]
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