Complaint is filed against Sykesville over bistro's wheelchair-accessibility; Baldwin's Station's steps are an issue for retired professor and activist


Two steps make an evening of folk music at a popular Sykesville restaurant inaccessible for Marilynn J. Phillips and others who use a wheelchair.

Phillips, 56, saw an ad for a concert at Baldwin's Station, a restored train depot between the town's Main Street and the Patapsco River. When she inquired about tickets and accessibility, she learned that a few steps would spoil her plans. Not for long, she hopes.

"When I find something I can't go to, I deal with it," said Phillips, a retired college professor and an accessibility activist. "It is important to file a complaint as soon as possible. If a business clears up the problem, I can withdraw the complaint."

Phillips, who contracted polio at age 2 and began using a wheelchair full time 13 years ago, has lodged a complaint against the town of Sykesville, saying the railroad station is not accessible. The town owns the century-old building and spent about $300,000 in state grants and loans to turn it into a restaurant 10 years ago.

Phillips notified the town Monday of her complaint, discussing the issue at length with Town Manager Matthew H. Candland. Since the building is a nationally registered landmark, Candland has contacted the Maryland Historic Trust for guidance on repair work.

"We are aware of the situation and will address it as necessary," said Mayor Jonathan S. Herman.

The complaint filed with the Maryland Commission on Human Relations last week also names Baldwin's and Uptown Concerts, which leases space in the restaurant for its weekly folk series.

"No one can deny persons with disability equal access and accommodations," Phillips said. "You have to do everything you can to make places and programs accessible."

The train station was remodeled in 1990 according to guidelines of the Maryland Historic Trust. The same year, the Americans with Disabilities Act was enacted.

Town officials said efforts were made to meet the criteria of both laws. Contractors made certain the main dining room, bar and restrooms were accessible.

The bar separates the two dining areas. The second larger dining space -- formerly the depot's freight room -- is not accessible because of the small stairway, but its size made it ideal for the concerts.

Renovation received waiver

Because both rooms offered similar amenities and the same menu, the accessibility requirements were waived for the second-level area.

"That waiver says that some human beings don't matter," Phillips said. "Building codes may have been too generous when the town went through these renovations, and now we are in this trouble."

Each concert, featuring folk music, usually sells all 75 tickets, creating a crowd too large for Baldwin's main dining room, said Stewart Dearie, the owner. The upper-level dining room opens onto a deck with a river view along the tracks -- an ambience that more patrons seem to prefer, Phillips said.

"Our restaurant is wheelchair accessible," Dearie said. "We welcome everyone here."

Dearie said his staff could carry Phillips and her 200-pound electric chair up the steps, a suggestion she immediately rejected.

"Carrying people is not safe, acceptable or relevant," she said.

Ramp would help

She suggested installing a permanent ramp at the steps or if space is limited, a portable lift, which can fold up at the wall. Both Dearie and the town have promised to find a solution, such as a ramp.

"In the interest of preserving historic artifacts, we must take care that we do not also preserve historic attitudes about the place and the rights of individuals with diverse physiologies," said Phillips.

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