By Jonathan Copsey; Appen Newspapers
December 10, 2010
Milton – The Milton Disabilities Awareness Committee is facing the existential problem of a group suddenly asking itself its own worth.
The soul-searching comes after a heated city council meeting Nov. 15, in which the council unanimously approved zoning for apartments and a vocational school for autistic adults by architect Rick Swanson. Many of Milton's disability advocacy groups came out in force to oppose the business, seeing it as more akin to an institution than an apartment complex. They were also stung by the fact they were not included in the decision process – or even told of the proposal – by the city, instead finding out about it just a few days before the vote.
Ann Coggins, chairperson of the MDAC, and her fellow volunteers say they have been meeting regularly since 2006 – since the inception of the city – to help make it a more inclusive community, accessible to all people regardless of ability. To not be so much as consulted by the city on such a project raised uncomfortable questions at their recent monthly meeting.
"We just want to be of value to the city," Coggins said.
According to Coggins, the city has approached the committee in the past about recommendations or opinions on projects that may affect the disabled. The zoning problem was certainly one of a failure to communicate.
"At what point do we know we're talking about zoning and at what point are we talking about disabilities to bring us into it?" asked Coggins.
She and her fellow committee members would like to see the city include MDAC on such matters. Otherwise, why have such a committee?
Councilmember Burt Hewitt agreed, saying the city is working on improving communication so that such an incident does not happen again. He was quick to point out, however, the onus is on all people within the city – both residents and city employees – to share information with each other and keep up to speed on what is going on within the city.
"I'm not blaming [MDAC] for not knowing about the proposal," said Hewitt, "but I'm not blaming someone for not telling them either."
He pointed out that by law the city must post online all zoning cases well ahead of the hearings, and the Swanson development was no different. City staff followed established procedure.