Inspired by couple, La Crosse Common Council approves Committee for Citizens with Disabilities

Comes after couple sued board over housing issue

The city of La Crosse will soon have a Committee for Citizens with Disabilities after a vote during the monthly Common Council meeting Thursday night. The group is meant to promote awareness and inclusion of those living with different needs and was inspired by a couple’s long fight with the city over a home built for their disabilities.

In July 2018, Jeff and Jeannie Nylander were sitting across the street in lawn chairs, waiting for their new home to arrive. The halves of their soon-to-be house rolled down Onalaska Street on a truck bed.

“We don’t have to worry about [any] upstairs and downstairs. And it’s going to be manageable,” said Jeannie Nylander during the move.

It was going to be perfect for Jeff Nylander, who has mobility issues, and for Jeannie Nylander, who is blind. But even as it was set down on the foundation, things weren’t settled. That changed when News 8 met with the couple again in February.

“They approved the ramp in the front of the house, but they denied the driveway in the back,” said Jeff Nylander.

The couple submitted a variance request to the Board of Zoning Appeals for the garage area, which didn’t meet floodplain codes because it was designed for their special needs. The board said the couple needed to bring it up to code, but the Nylanders decided to bring the issue to court.

“I will reverse the ruling of the Board of Zoning Appeals,” said Judge Gloria Doyle during a hearing on July 24.

The ruling from Doyle allowed the Nylanders to keep the house as-is. But they weren’t done with the issue yet.

“Jeannie and I sat down and basically made a pledge not to have anybody else go through this,” Jeff Nylander said.

He searched for some of the best small cities for people with disabilities. Those that topped the list were Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Rapid City, South Dakota; and Bismark, North Dakota. He noticed all three had disability committees as part of the local government that advised and educated the public. That’s when he contacted Mayor Tim Kabat.

“We have not had one that deals with kind of citywide issues,” said Kabat.

Kabat wants the group to be able to come up with its focus. But based on the resolution, the group would promote awareness, equity and inclusion by hosting listening sessions and other tasks.

“The educational piece and raising awareness about these issues is going to be a big part of what they are looking to do,” Kabat said.

All the Nylanders wanted was the city to understand their needs. While they could have given up, in the end, it was worth it.

“I know that over time, it’s going to make La Crosse a better place. And after living here 35 years, we’re not willing to give it up,” Jeff Nylander said.

Nylander said he has given a list of people to potentially serve on this committee to the mayor. There will be one council member and eight residents in the group.

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