Monday, April 20, 2015

Information re. Wheelchair beach access‏

Over the years, there have been questions regarding ADA-compliant, wheelchair-access dune walkovers on the private beach easements.  Jim Gordon, the President of PIE, explains the issue in response to a letter from PIE member Dennis Johnson, who inquired about wheelchair ramps:

April 18, 2015
Dennis Johnson Owner/Broker 
Dennis Johnson Realty LLC
PO Box 3028
Placida, FL. 33946

Dear Dennis,
Thank you for contacting the PIE Board in reference to wheel chair access on PIE constructed dune walkovers.  Actually, the initial design of the walkover currently being constructed at beach access # 7 included ADA compliant wheel chair ramping but this design was rejected by our engineering firm for the following reasons:

Access Width – PIE beach accesses are only 5 feet in width which is reduced to effectively 4 feet after required railings are constructed.  This means that there is not adequate space to turn a wheel chair around to return from the beach.  In addition, once a wheel chair is on the ramp, no other pedestrian traffic would be possible. 

Narrow Beaches   The distance between our dunes and the water’s edge is quite narrow in most areas.  This fact combined with Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) guidelines (see below) presented us with significant obstacles to the inclusion of wheel chair ramps in the walkover design.  

FDEP Guidelines – FDEP has published strict guidelines relating to the construction of dune walkovers.  In addition to protecting the dune and native vegetation this is primarily to decrease the potential for storms interacting with the structure, occupation of sea turtle nesting habitat by the structure, and interference with lateral public beach access.  Specific guidelines which affect wheel chair ramps are:

1. Walkover must be a minimum of 3’ 10” above the highest dune point.
2. Walkover cannot extend further than 10 ‘ beyond beach vegetation.
3. No permanent structure is allowed seaward of the dune or within sea turtle nesting

Our engineering firm concluded that adhering to FDEP guidelines within the confines of our narrow beaches would mean the seaward ramp slope would greatly exceed ADA requirements for wheel chair access and recommended the ramps be replaced with stairs.  Reluctantly, we agreed to this recommendation.  

Thank you again for your message and input on this issue.   You may be aware that Charlotte County controls 5 public beach accesses on the island and gaining ramped walkovers at one or more of these locations may represent an alternative to the PIE accesses.   If you elect to pursue this with the County, please let us know how we can help.  
Warm regards,

Jim Gordon, President
Palm Island Estates Homeowners Association (PIE)
941-268-3299 (cell)

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