ROCKVILLE, Md., (WUSA) -- An ad in the Washingtonian magazine brought them together 15 years ago. And, Marlene and Joe Bishow have been holding hands from that day forward.
"Our life is a little different than we had expected that it might be," says Marlene.
Different since Joe was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease in 1998. So, they purchased a condo in Rockville's King Farm Village Center II because they wanted to stay in their home.
Marlene says, "I had specifically talked with the guy who was the sales agent about handicapped parking. And, I was assured there was no issue, no problem."
But the Bishows say there is a problem now. So, they reached out to ourWUSA 9 Call For Action team.
"We don't let him get in and out in the driveway. It's just too risky and too unsafe," she says.
The Bishows have a garage and tandem parking spot. It is on a slope next to apillar, and it's a barrier to Joe who depends on his walker and wheelchair to get in and out of the car.
"We're not asking for that much," Joe Bishow says.
During their time at King Farm, Marlene and Joe's health and mobility have declined. Marlene is the sole driver, and in order to transport Joe safely, he needs a flat surface. At one time, there were handicapped spaces in the general parking behind the Bishow's condo. Now they are gone, linking the Bishows and the Condo Board in a fight over what is a reasonable request for handicapped parking.
"The law says that disabled people can ask for reasonable accommodations," says Marlene.
In 2005, Marlene challenged the King Farm Condo Board's rejection of her parking request for reasonable accommodations by filing a discrimination complaint with the Maryland Commission on Human Relations.
The Commission concluded that because the space would be further away from the Bishow's building that "it raises doubts as to whether the accommodation is...indeed reasonable." And determined the Condo Board did not discriminate against them.
The Bishows say this is not about being closer to their building. It's about having enough space to their parking spot.
Twice a week, Marlene chauffeurs Joe to his doctor for rehab sessions at Adventist Healthcare. His doctor, Terrence Sheehan, says having that accessible space is important so that Joe can remain independent.
"We should have what he needs. So, somewhere, somebody didn't have the vision for what he needs, because is what every senior is today. Someone who is in need of some level of accessibility," Dr. Sheehan says.
In a statement, the Board of Directors for King Farm Village Center where the Bishows live says they are "sympathetic to the situation of the Bishows and has tried to offer compromise options."
One option was to see if a resident who had a handicapped garage would swap with the Bishows. That did not work.
The other option was a handicapped parking spot with an accessibility lane in the area behind their condo, but it came with a caveat.
The Bishows would have to give up their garage and tandem spot. They said no, believing it could impact the value of their home.
Each resident is able to have up to two spots on the grounds. The Bishows request would mean they would end up with four parking spaces, something the Condo Board says it is unable to do, since it lost 18 spots as part of an easement agreement with Montgomery County.
But, in photos provided by the Bishows, you can see that the Condo Board did make that accommodation for another resident from 2002 to 2006 and reserved the spot in her name. That resident also had a garage and tandem spot. When the resident moved, the Condo Board removed the signs and painted over the lanes.
WUSA 9 Anchor Lesli Fostersays, "We've talked with experts who aren't willing to weigh in specifically on the Bishow's case. But, they tell us in general, good enforcement of the Fair Housing Act, which covers parking, doesn't give something and then take something away. And, in this joint statement by the Departments of Justice and Housing and Urban Development, they cite how courts have required a housing provider to give an assigned space even though that housing provider had a policy of not assigning parking spaces. And, that people with disabilities should not have to pay extra fees as a condition to recieve an accessible parking spot."
It's been 10 years of writing letters, consulting attorneys and reaching out for help. But, the Bishows hope that one day soon, this parking battle will finally end in their favor.
"You know, some people just say give up, just move somewhere else. We don't want to give up our home, but we may not have a choice," Marlene Bishow says.
A Rockville City spokesperson tells WUSA 9 that King Farm exceeds the number of handicapped parking spaces that are required by the city.
The Condo Board brought in an engineer to see if they could make the Bishow's current tandem spot more accessible. But the engineers determined it can't be done.
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