An advocacy group for people with disabilities says Charlottesville isn’t complying with federal accessibility laws at the Dogwood Vietnam Memorial.
Tom Vandever, executive director of the Charlottesville Independence Resource Center and a former city mayor, sent a letter to Interim City Manager Mike Murphy on Wednesday outlining ongoing concerns about access to the memorial in McIntire Park.
The memorial doesn’t have a parking lot and the only way to access it is by parking at the nearby Charlottesville-Albemarle Rescue Squad and taking sidewalks across a busy intersection to a path up a hill.
“[W]e continue to believe that the City of Charlottesville is not adhering to federal laws and requirements regarding access to public spaces,” Vandever wrote, referring to the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The memorial, built in 1966, was the first in the country dedicated to those who died in the Vietnam War. It sits at the corner of the John W. Warner Parkway and the U.S. 250 Bypass. In 2015, it was redesigned to fit with the construction of the parkway.
“Unfortunately, the required (one-way) path of travel is nearly ¼ mile long and the hike to the Dogwood Vietnam Memorial plaza also forces pedestrians to cross at least six lanes of traffic at one of the busiest intersections in the city,” the letter says.
Access has been an ongoing concern for the organization, according to the letter, which has been discussing problems for the past three years. The organization made no indication it plans to file a federal complaint regarding access.
The issue has intensified since the city constructed a skate park that eliminated parking at a former golf course and wading pool at McIntire Park.
The city has installed signs directing people to public parking at the rescue squad, but the Independence Resource Center says that’s not enough and doesn’t solve the problem.
The organization also says that the rescue squad parking lot doesn’t have properly designated handicap spots.
City spokesman Brian Wheeler said officials are considering more descriptive signs that direct visitors to park at the rescue squad for the memorial.
Also in preliminary consideration is an on-call shuttle service, possibly using a golf cart, to take people to the memorial from the rescue squad.
Construction going on in front of the memorial is not related to any accessibility improvements. That work is for a section of a trail connecting the skate park to sidewalks at the intersection.
The organization suggests a parking lot adjacent to the memorial and access to a vehicle path used during ceremonies at the memorial. Also suggested is a lift elevator at the base of the memorial and shuttle service.
Wheeler said the city’s master plan for the eastern portion of McIntire Park doesn’t include any parking near the memorial or another road to access it. He said the city believes it is meeting ADA requirements.
The city can only do so much, Wheeler said, because the park and memorial are surrounded by a railroad, the bypass, the parkway and the future site of the McIntire Botanical Garden.
“The memorial is more visible than ever and has a greatly enhanced landscape,” Wheeler said. “That makes it more visible, more people want to go there, so we recognize that challenge.”
Jim Carpenter, a former Daily Progress photographer who is among those leading the charge for improvements, said doing the work is a way to honor those memorialized.
“This needs to be done largely for the respect for those 28 service members from Charlottesville and Albemarle County who gave their lives,” he wrote on Facebook.
The letter urges the city to improve accessibility as soon as possible.
“To say that ‘eventually’ we will address these problems is not acceptable — the harsh reality is that ‘eventually’ we are all dead and will never benefit,” the letter says. “We have a community and national treasure with our Dogwood Vietnam Memorial. We need to make it accessible to everyone.”
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