Matters became heated in a packed meeting room with no air conditioning as citizens spoke on a proposed golf cart ordinance last Tuesday.
On June 11, the Essex County board of supervisors held a public hearing on a potential law that would permit golf carts to use state roads in certain neighborhoods.
Pending the board’s approval of the ordinance, golf carts could be driven on Muddy Gut Road, Rockingham Road and Norton Point Road within Rappahannock Shores, the River Breeze Subdivision, Fairfield Farm, F.E. Cook, Boiseaux Est. and Old Boiseaux Est. Subdivisions.
Robert Parrish, a homeowner on Muddy Gut Road said residents are not legally allowed to drive their golf carts on the state highways because they are not licensed vehicles.
But Dean Parsons, president of the Rappahannock Shores community, said residents have been driving golf carts in the neighborhood for decades.
“They’ve been going up and down Rockingham Road before River Breeze was even built,” said Parsons. “Most of the children down there have been driving these golf carts for a long time.”
Parsons said the matter became an issue when police began telling residents that they were breaking the law by driving the golf carts on the roadways.
“I have a brother who lives in River Breeze [and] in order to get to my brother, I have to drive illegally,” said Parsons. “It doesn’t make any sense to me to get in my car, start it up, drive it down there and go see him.”
Parrish noted that whether or not the ordinance passes, people would continue to ride their golf carts on the roadways.
“We would just like to come into compliance and full legality in doing so,” said Parrish, who added that making the ordinance a law was a “no-brainer.”
“We’re at the end of a dead-end road and we’re not hurting
anybody,” said Parrish. “At the end of the day, we want to have the freedom to get on our golf carts, ride down to the beach, enjoy the day and ride back.”
But Gary McCauley, of Norton Point Road argued that the ordinance was not necessary because homeowners in the listed subdivisions already had immediate water access through their proximity to beaches, piers and docks beside the Rappahannock River.
“There’s really no reason for anybody to drive a golf cart on a state road,” said McCauley, adding that the proposed ordinance only allows licensed drivers to operate the carts on the road.
“If it’s licensed drivers, what are they going to need a golf cart for?” said McCauley. “Get in your car and go where you need to go.”
McCauley also questioned if the county would require owners of the golf carts to pay a fee to drive the vehicles within the subdivisions.
“Do they have to have lights, turn signals, horns and everything else that goes along with driving on state roads like we all pay for?” said McCauley before calling golf carts “silent theft vehicles” in referencing a higher number of incidents with vandalism in his neighborhood.
“I’ve had batteries stolen out of my boats [and] the new neighbors who have just moved in had 35 gallons of gas stolen out of their boats,” said McCauley. “I’ve never seen so much theft since all these things have been driving around.”
Jeff Norton, also of Norton Point Road, spoke against the inclusion of his road and Fairfield Farm Subdivision in the ordinance.
Norton, who allegedly spoke from the perspective of property owners on Norton Point Road and the Fairfield community, shared his concerns regarding public safety.
He said that there was an ever-increasing issue with young children driving golf carts on the road.
“They’re pulling out in front of traffic, weaving all over the road [and] causing both the risk to themselves and the automobile drivers, not to mention driving the roads late at night,” said Norton. “Numerous times we’ve had to stop and yield the way to these child-operated [vehicles].”
Norton questioned if the county would be able to adequately utilize law enforcement in policing the area for compliance.
David Forney, another Norton Point Road and Fairfield Farms resident, differed with Norton, saying that wife was handicapped and needed to use a golf cart for transportation. Forney said his wife would remain illegal in driving onto the road to check the mailbox if the ordinance didn’t include Norton Point Road in the language.
“Why would you take that away from a handicapped person who is only a couple hundred feet off the way?” said Forney, who also requested that the board pass the ordinance with insurance attached.
“I think that’s a safety issue,” said Forney. “If you’re on a state highway, yeah, you do need insurance. Yes, you do need a license.”
But Mark Haynes, who originally requested that the issue be brought before the board as early as Sept. 2012, said he did not approve of an insurance code being included in the ordinance.
“I don’t have the responsibility of committing anybody’s finances,” said Haynes. “Imposing insurance on golf carts certainly has to do with laws have been written well above me.”
County Attorney Daniel Siegel emphasized his understanding that anyone who drove a vehicle on a state road had to be a licensed driver with insurance.
Haynes differed by referencing Lancaster County, which allows its residents to utilize their golf carts without an insurance ordinance attached.
“I’ve literally worked with every individual at the county level, and that never came up to being an issue until it was reviewed by your attorney,” Haynes told the board. “I’m questioning the true coverage of that policy when I know…in Lancaster, that’s not the case, and we’re covered by the same state.”
Northern Dist. Angelo Stevens made the motion to table the matter until next meeting to allow the county to review it further.
“We may be wrong and [Lancaster County] is right,” said Stevens.
There is no listed requirement for insurance in Sec. 66-3 of the Lancaster County Code of Ordinances, which allows citizens to operate golf carts and utility vehicles on a limited number of state roadways with conditions.
It is anticipated that the board will make a decision on the issue during their next meeting on Tuesday, July 9 at 10 a.m. in the county and school board meeting room.