State College, PA - Centre County - Central Pennsylvania - Home of Penn State University

Borough Council Approves VisitAbility Ordinance

by on September 12, 2017 8:50 AM

State College Borough Council on Monday approved an ordinance designed to make some newly constructed properties more accessible to individuals with disabilities.

The VisitAbility ordinance applies to new construction of single-family and duplex homes to be used as rental housing. 

Four requirements are included in the ordinance. Houses included under the ordinance will be required to have at least one zero-step entrance, doors with 32 inches or greater passage space to accommodate wheelchairs, at least one bathroom with a toilet on the main floor that is wheelchair accessible, and a pathway of at least 40 inches in the kitchen area.

A second ordinance, which would provide a tax credit for all single-family and duplex homeowners, both private and rental, to meet VisitAbility requirements was tabled until the next council meeting.

Since the approved ordinance is limited to new single-family and duplex homes for rentals, Centre Region Code Agency Director Walt Schneider said it's unlikely the ordinance will come into play very much in the near future.

“When you look at the amount of buildable lots, unless someone was tearing something down and building something new there’s not a whole lot of these we’re going to see in the borough, at least in a short order,” Schneider said.

He added that additional costs associated with the provisions should be minimal because they would be included in the design. Site issues would be the main factor that would impact costs.

The ordinance passed by a vote of 4-3. Council members Jesse Barlow, Janet Engeman and Evan Myers each said they were in favor of the ordinance but felt they needed more information and further study to ensure the ordinance would appropriately address accessibility issues.

"This is an extremely important issue," Myers said. "We need to make as much of our community as possible accessible to folks who need that accessibility. I think we need to make sure we do it correctly, and I’m not sure we’re in a position to do that just yet."

The ordinance as originally drafted was based on similar requirements passed in Austin, Texas. It was revised to meet the definition of visitable units by the International Code Council.

Schneider explained that the requirements are tied to obtaining rental permits, not the construction itself. To make the requirements apply to all properties -- new or existing, rental or owner-occupied -- would require modifying the Uniform Construction Code of Pennsylvania, "which we're not allowed to modify without a very extensive process."

Council member Theresa Lafer voted in favor of the ordinance and said it is much needed.

"We have taken things from the international code that presumably have been studied and OK'd by experts in the field and we have adapted them to a very real need in this community, brought to us by a man who knows the need is very real," Lafer said. "I think it is a small, real improvement in the housing options in our community."

Resident Joel Sokloff first brought the proposed ordinance to council in 2014. Sokloff has been a paraplegic for more than 20 years following treatment for Hodgkin's disease.

Before the vote, a representative for Sokloff asked council on his behalf to hold off on the vote. Sokloff appeared later in the meeting and asked council to reconsider the vote. He asked that additional measures be included, such as a census of all homes in the borough and either voluntary or mandatory ways of making them accessible.

Council members could reconsider the vote at a future meeting but did not indicate if they would or would not.



Geoff Rushton is managing editor for Contact him at or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.
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