Wheelchair-User Sues Creperie Over Lack of Ramp Access

By Lindsay Armstrong on March 14, 2014 8:13am 

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 Bonjour Crepes may have to pay thousands of dollars if it's found to be in defiance of federal disability laws.
Crepe Cafe Faces Lawsuit Over Wheelchair Accessibility
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UPPER EAST SIDE — A Lexington Avenue creperie with a 5-inch step blocking its entrance violates handicap-accessibilty laws, according to a lawsuit filed by a patron in a wheelchair who was unable to get inside.

Manyon Lyons, who has cerebral palsy, sued Bonjour Crepes on Lexington Avenue, as well as its landlord, 20 Smith Assoc. LLC., for more than $20,000 — saying the landmarked building's step and other conditions violate the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to her lawsuit filed Jan. 31.

Among the other violations the lawsuit listed at the 1442 Lexington Ave. eatery, near East 94th Street, were tables that don't provide adequate knee and toe clearance, doorknob handles that don't turn easily and a lack of grab bars in the restroom to help people with disabilities lift themselves from their wheelchairs, according to the lawsuit. The suit also says the café's vestibule is too small for people in wheelchairs.

The suit asks for $10,000 in damages and $500 for each of the 26 violations detailed in the filing, as well as the cost of legal fees.

The landlord, 20 Smith Assoc. LLC., could not be reached for comment.

Bonjour Crepes owner Parvez Eliaas — who owns a Second Avenue location of Bonjour Crepes and the Persian restaurant Persepolis — said that while his other businesses are in compliance with Americans with Disabilities Act regulations, bringing the Lexington Avenue location up to accessibility standards has been difficult because it falls within a landmarked district.

“Up until now, I haven’t even put a sign up over the building, because it’s landmarked,” Eliaas said about the shop he opened in November 2013 within the Carnegie Hill Historic District. “I know that to make any changes, I have to go through the community board and landmarks and put in an application.”

While all new construction must fully meet ADA regulations, some older buildings are only required to make changes that are "readily achievable," a standard determined on a case-by-case basis unless owners have made significant renovations.

But a spokeswoman for the Landmarks Preservation Commission said that unless a site has an interior landmark, the commission would not have any say over the kind of changes the suit has requested be made inside. The commission frequently reviews owners' requests to make exterior changes in order to comply with ADA accessibility laws and has never rejected an application made on these grounds, she said. Landmarking does not exempt businesses from being ADA compliant, the spokeswoman added.

Barbara Adler, executive director of the Columbus Avenue Business Improvement District, said navigating the LPC when it comes to handicap accessability can be more complicated than that.

“In a lot of landmarked districts, our hands are somewhat tied,” said Adler, who has helped several businesses with similar issues. “The LPC says, we allow you to do this, but I know several merchants who have tried to make changes and have been told no. The city agencies really need to get on the same page with this.”

Donald J. Weiss, Lyons' lawyer, said lawsuits are necessary because some older buildings can only be brought under the umbrella of being forced to comply with ADA rules if someone sues successfully to force them to do so.

"My perspective is that there are businesses in New York City that break the law and don't provide access to people with disabilites," said Weiss, who has has handled about 60 accessibility cases since 2010, according to his website. "They have a difficult enough life as it is and places like Bonjour Crepes make it harder for them."

Peter Pankin, a lawyer who often represents businesses involved in such lawsuits, said the responsibility and cost for major renovations often falls to the merchants rather than to the buildings’ owners because some owners absolve themselves of responsibility in leases.

Cos Spagnoletti, co-owner of Bonjour Crepes, said he wants the café to be accessible. However, he said some changes, such as widening the front vestibule in a manner that would be in accordance with LPC requirements, would be too costly for the small business.

“We’re more than willing to put in a temporary ramp. We’re more than willing to make the space accessible to [Lyons],” he said. “But if it’s a case where we have to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars, I mean, this isn’t a high-end restaurant. It would take us 20 years to recoup that.”

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