Hybrids trump handicapped at liquor store
NASHUA - Three reserved parking spaces for hybrid and low-emission cars at the new $3.3 million state liquor store are located closer to the store's main entrance than the handicapped parking spots, causing at least one lawmaker to call the design a slap in the face to the disabled.
'To choose to display such blatant priority for special interests over seniors, wounded veterans and others who have mobility difficulty is deplorable,' said state Rep. Peter Silva of Nashua. 'The (liquor) commission owes the public an explanation as well as a plan to remedy this situation immediately.'
Nancy Farrell of Nashua Center for the Multiply Handicapped Inc., an organization that serves people with disabilities, said she was shocked upon learning that handicapped drivers were not being given priority parking spaces at the store, located on Coliseum Avenue.
'I can't believe they did that. It is ridiculous,' said Farrell. 'These people want to be as close as they can get to where they are going, for obvious mobility reasons.'
Farrell suggested that perhaps a protest be organized to have the hybrid signs moved farther away from the entrance so that handicapped motorists can park closest to the door.
On Friday, House Speaker William O'Brien sent a letter to the New Hampshire Liquor Commission questioning why it favors hybrid cars over drivers with physical disabilities.
'It appears to favor publicity over reality and concern for special interests over concern for the disabled,' O'Brien wrote in his letter addressed to Joseph Mollica, chairman of the liquor commission.
Mollica said the placement of the parking slots was intentional. He explained that the spots for LEV and hybrid vehicles are close to the store to assist with the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification requirements, a federal designation of energy efficiency and environmental design.
The new liquor store, the largest in the state at 20,000 square feet, has several economically friendly features which enabled it to receive the certification. In addition to the reserved parking spaces for cars with low-emission engines, the facility was also built with solar panels, geo-thermal heating and cooling systems, local building materials and recycled products.
The handicapped spaces, according to Mollica, are placed between the front entrance of the store and the public restroom entry at the rear of the facility, which is also a high-traffic area.
By placing them centrally, Mollica said, there will be easy access to both, adding some travelers come only to use the restrooms and not to buy liquor. Those who want to make both stops, including handicapped customers, can enter the liquor store directly from the restroom area, he added.
Silva said the hybrid signs have got to go, period. He said drivers of LEV or hybrid cars should not be receiving special parking spots, especially over handicapped parking spots. Silva said he's received about a dozen emails from his constituents who are disgusted by the decision to provide easy-access parking to green cars rather than cars with wheelchair placards.
'While many environmentalists have hailed the use of these vehicles as beneficial, there is no documented reason why those consumers who own these automobiles would have any difficulty walking from other areas of the parking lot to gain entry into the liquor facility,' argues O'Brien in his letter to Mollica. 'For individuals with handicapped tags, this is a very different story.'
A Nashua resident, Laurie Sutton, was so outraged when she saw the special hybrid parking spaces at the liquor store that it prompted her to contact her state representative.
'It makes no sense to me. Handicapped parking should be closest to the door; that is just common sense,' said Sutton. 'I really want to know who the inconsiderate fool was that decided to do this.'
Nashua Mayor Donnalee Lozeau admits that the design concept at the liquor store is unique, and while she appreciates the concern, she believes that disabled residents are being provided with appropriate access the way it is currently laid out.
'I am confident that the state and the city have made every effort to make sure the handicap spaces do not disadvantage anyone,' Lozeau said, maintaining that Nashua's liquor store is one of the busiest in the state, and that many people use the public restrooms there without any intention of purchasing alcohol.
Lozeau also added that all of the parking at the store has not yet been completed, as more work is still to be done.
A former state representaive, David Cote, D-Nashua, who is disabled, said he thinks the controversy is nonsense, maintaining that the distance involved is insignificant. Cote criticized O'Brien and Silva, saying that after they both supported a budget that devastates the disabled and poor, their alleged concern for them now rings hollow.
They both supported a budget that cuts millions in services to the state's most vulnerable citizens, including those individuals with disabilities, argued Harrell Kirstein, press secretary for the New Hampshire Democratic Party.
'How dare the speaker try and use people with disabilities to try and score cheap political points. The hypocrisy is amazing,' Kirstein said in a statement.
Gov. John Lynch's press secretary, Colin Manning, referred all questions to the liquor commission.
New Hampshire Union Leader State House Bureau Chief Tom Fahey contributed to this report.