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Waterford Development LLC Ordered to Redesign 17 Handicapped Accessible
 Rooms to Meet Connecticut Code at the Soon to Open
 409-room Marriott Hartford Downtown

By Jeffrey B. Cohen, The Hartford Courant, Conn.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News 

May 25, 2005--HARTFORD -- The developer of the new Marriott hotel at Adriaen's Landing must redesign bathrooms in 17 nearly completed handicapped-accessible rooms to meet state code and ensure that people in wheelchairs are able to use the toilets, a state panel ruled Tuesday morning. 

"We've got an oops on the table here and I think that ... the goal here is to remedy the situation that brought us to the hearing today," said John Butkus, chairman of the codes and standards committee of the Department of Public Safety, in reference to the design flaw that caused the compliance issue. "The gold standard is the state building code." 

In February, the state Office of Protection and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities denied an application by the hotel's developers, Waterford Development LLC, to waive the section of the state code that mandates that the distance between the wall on one side of the toilet and the edge of the sink on the other be a minimum of 60 inches. Tuesday's hearing was an appeal of that denial. 

Bruce Spiewak, a code consultant for the hotel, argued that the hotel's bathrooms meet federal Americans with Disabilities Act requirements; that they meet the state requirements for accessible bathrooms in residential uses; and that compliance with the state code, although feasible, would unreasonably complicate construction. 

"There was a mistake made, it was discovered, it was acted upon immediately," Spiewak said. It was also noted that the state building inspector's office failed to detect the design flaw in its review of the hotel's plans in 2003. 

But experts on disability and architecture for the state contended that compliance is necessary and attainable. To leave the bathrooms as they now are would mean to make them impossible for many people to use and risk injury to those who do, one specialist said. 

Also, because the architect -- Brennan Beer Gorman Architects of New York -- has worked in Connecticut before, ignorance of the state's building codes should not have been an issue, the state and the developer agreed. 

Robert Saint, project manager for Waterford Development LLC, said it's now back to the design board. "Needless to say, we have some challenges ahead of us," he said, adding that had this issue been caught in 2003, "we would have made the footprint larger so we'd have the space to do this." 

But it wasn't caught, and the building, which is scheduled to open this summer, is close to complete. "We have 17 units, most of which are now built, wallpapered, carpeted, tiled, fixtures installed, furniture being installed -- that's where we are today," Saint said. 

Len Wolman, head of Waterford Group, emphasized his goal to build a "first-class hotel." 

"We're going to have to work through this and reach a resolution," Wolman said, adding that the bathroom work won't delay the building's opening. 

Raymond A. Garcia, a New Haven attorney and a member of the Connecticut Bar Association's construction law executive committee, said that although the state building inspector missed the design flaw in 2003, the responsibility to comply with the law still rests with the builder. 

"There's no way they can sue the state ... because their obligation is to comply with the law," he said. "If [the building inspector] makes a mistake, which happens a lot because it's a very complex code, the developer still has to comply with the law." 

After the panel's decision, state advocates for people with disabilities said they were pleased. 

"It's very gratifying to see people identifying with the experience of someone with a disability who's going to try to use what is a very awkward and probably unsafe design," said James D. McGaughey, executive director of the state Office of Protection and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities. "Because until you begin to do that, you don't really understand the impact that these regulations and requirements have." 


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Copyright (c) 2005, The Hartford Courant, Conn.

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