Parking Disabled Woman

Disabled Watseka resident Deanna Bell says the city has worsened her ability to get into her car. The city vacated an alley where the Bells have been parking for years. The Bells and the neighbor each got half of the easement. The Bells’ car is to the left, the neighbor’s to the right. Given the positioning, Deanna Bell says she can no longer get to her car in a wheelchair.

WATSEKA — Deanna Bell, a disabled Watseka resident, has a harder time leaving her house these days, a problem she blames on the city.

Over the summer, the City Council voted to vacate an easement between her and her neighbor’s house on West North Street. The city split the area of the easement between the neighbors.

The easement originally was meant for an alley decades ago, but the city never put in one. So over time, Bell parked in the gravel easement. In recent years, she and her husband, Jeff, had a ramp built toward the easement, so Deanna could easily get to her car in a wheelchair.

Since the city vacated the easement, the neighbor has parked her car in the position where the Bells used to. The Bells’ car is next to the neighbor’s. There is no room for Deanna to get into her car in a wheelchair. Instead, she now must be helped walking to her car, she said. Making matters worse, the neighbor has placed stakes between the two sections of the former easement.

“I can’t walk very far. My legs are very weak. I need to the ramp to get to my car,” Bell said.

Bell said she doesn’t understand why her neighbor even needs to park her car in the easement because she has a driveway on the other side of her property that has plenty of space.

The neighbor, Bell said, has been asking the city to vacate the easement for a year and half. The council made its decision to vacate the alley without giving the Bells any individual notice, she said.

In an interview, Watseka Mayor John Allhands said the city believes it found the best way to solve a dispute between neighbors.

“We gave each neighboring property owner half,” the mayor said. “We felt that was the only option the city had. It seemed like the most logical thing to do. We try our best with what’s laid in front of us.”

Bell said if she had been told about the council meeting, she could have convinced the city to keep the easement as is.

“If they saw what I do to get into and out of my car, the result would have been different,” she said.

Earlier in the summer, the Bells’ lawyer, Samantha Dodds, wrote a letter to the city, asking to be notified about developments on the alley. She said the owner “already had quite a bit of parking space and Mr. and Mrs. Bell have limited space.”

Bell said Prairie State Legal Services, which aids low-income residents, is now helping her with the issue.

Asked about the situation, Prairie State spokesman Kris Owns said, “Per our policy, we can neither confirm nor deny whether this is a case being served by Prairie State Legal Services.”

The Bells’ neighbor couldn’t be reached for comment.

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