PLATTSBURGH — Pyramid Management Group has reached an agreement with the State Attorney General's Office to address accessibility issues at its 12 mall properties in New York.

The settlement resulted from an investigation by the Attorney General's Office after a complaint was filed by the North Country Center for Independence in 2013.

The center was acting on behalf of a local resident who uses a wheelchair and had told them about curb cuts that had been filled in at some mall entrances.

That blocked access to anyone using a wheelchair, the center said.

MET WITH MALL, TOWN

North Country Center for Independence Executive Director Robert Poulin said that when his agency investigated the resident's complaint, they found several curb cuts on the western side of the Plattsburgh mall had been filled in.

Rather than file a complaint immediately, they met with mall officials and the Town of Plattsburgh Codes and Zoning Department.

The response from mall officials was that some non-conforming curb cuts had been removed and replaced with new conforming versions at several other locations to ensure compliance.

Poulin said Codes Officer Steven Imhoff told the Center for Independence said those new cuts were in compliance but also pointed out that the aim should be to make the mall more accessible, not less.

Imhoff offered as example the entrance to Target, where the entire area features a low-slope ramp rather than curb.

Poulin said he was in agreement with that assessment.

"They were creating a situation of discrimination where people with disabilities were forced to enter elsewhere," he said. "They had the features in place and took them away."

REMOVING BARRIERS

It was only after the meetings didn't result in changes that the Center for Independence filed its complaint.

That eventually led to an AG's Office assessment of multiple mall properties owned by Pyramid across the state.

Among those are Aviation Mall in Glens Falls and Crossgate Mall in Albany.

The evaluation found several persistent accessibility barriers across Pyramid’s portfolio, including improperly sized parking spaces, steep slopes and cross slopes at curb ramps, inadequate signage, movable objects in the path of travel and other issues in the public hallways and restrooms at various malls.

State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced the settlement Thursday.

“Many New Yorkers with disabilities find it difficult to access shopping malls because of architectural barriers,” he said in a press release.

“My office has made it a priority to remove these barriers and to help ensure that all New Yorkers have the access they need to live full and independent lives.”

CHANGES

Under the agreement, Pyramid agrees to:

• Retain an Americans with Disabilities Act consultant who will report to the Attorney General’s Office on compliance with the agreement by Pyramid for three years and who will survey the covered shopping malls to determine necessary remediations.

• Take remedial action to ensure that the common areas of each shopping mall comply with the accessibility standards.

• Develop new policies prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disability and ensure future compliance with ADA requirements.

• Conduct ADA training for relevant employees, including property managers and maintenance staff.

• Submit any plans for new construction or substantial alterations at its shopping malls for review by the ADA consultant.

• Post accessibility maps for each shopping mall on its website, as well as instructions on how to obtain complimentary wheelchairs and any other services available to customers with ambulatory disabilities.

Pyramid must also amend its standard retail lease to require tenants to affirmatively certify that their plans comply with accessibility requirements. The mall must take steps to promote ADA compliance by anchor tenants of its shopping malls.

Finally, Pyramid has agreed to resolve the investigation by paying $160,000 to New York state.

STATEWIDE IMPACT

Poulin said it is encouraging that local people can raise an issue on ADA compliance, have it heard by the proper officials and see it have an impact across the state.

He encouraged others who encounter similar matters to contact his staff.

He hopes the consultant hired by Pyramid reaches out to the North Country Center for Independence, and similar organizations in the other affected communities, for input on changes and future compliance.

"Now, it comes down to seeing how it gets enacted," he said of the settlement.

A Press-Republican request for a statement from Pyramid Management Group elicited no response.

Email Dan Heath:

dheath@pressrepublican.com

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