Originally created 09/21/00

Secret donor helps disabled resident



SAVANNAH - To Darlene Dean, the 14 steps leading to her Tattnall Street apartment are a mountain.

It's a climb made tortuous by her crippling arthritis - pain that keeps her from leaving her home more than once a week.

"I'll hurt all day tomorrow, just from going out today," Ms. Dean said Tuesday.

On Sunday, an anonymous donor told Historic Savannah Foundation officials he would pay for a wall that will help her regain her freedom.

The exterior wall will hide an elevator attached to her home near Pulaski Square.

The city stopped work in July when it found out Ms. Dean's 80-year-old mother, Marion Dean, never obtained a building permit.

A permit cannot be granted until the historic review board gives its blessing to the designs. That will not happen until Ms. Dean builds a wall to screen the elevator from the street. And Marion Dean has said she cannot build the brick wall because she does not have the money.

"I think it's unbelievable and it's kind and it's thoughtful," Marion Dean said. "Quite frankly, I think it's generous, and I have no idea who it came from."

The donation, which will probably equal several thousand dollars at least, was made through Historic Savannah. Foundation Director Mark McDonald said the donor agreed to pay whatever it took, within reason, to build the wall. The foundation will donate design services for the wall.

"They just felt like they could help out," Mr. McDonald said. "It's kind of a one-time grant to Ms. Dean because of the circumstances of her (daughter's) disability and her need for an elevator."

On Sept. 28, the review board will hold a special meeting outside Ms. Dean's home to approve plans for the wall and elevator.

At last week's board meeting, members debated with Ms. Dean about following rules for development in the Historic District. When Ms. Dean went before the board a few years ago with plans to build a new home next door, she agreed to build the wall. If that had been done, the elevator would not have been an issue, members say.

Board member Richard Mopper said he was happy the matter was moving close to resolution.

"I don't think there is any question that on numerous occasions the review board has sympathetically looked at how we can have handicapped access for both public and private facilities," Mr. Mopper said.

But Mr. Mopper said no matter who is applying to the board, rules must be followed.

Ms. Dean was born without hip sockets; her bones gouged out grooves in her cartilage early on to allow her to take slow, measured steps. About 20 years ago, arthritis set in, and it gradually has gotten worse.

Ms. Dean says she should not be punished for her condition and said the rules must be flexible enough to make life normal for people with disabilities. Ms. Dean said she is working with the housing authority to see if anything can be done.

"After all of this is over I'd hope the board would look at changing its procedures so someone else who comes along like me wouldn't have to wait so long for something like this to get approved," Ms. Dean said. "I will follow through, not for me, but for the next person who comes along."