There was quite a bit of contention at the Park Rapids City Council meeting Tuesday night regarding the proposed amendment to the city ordinance concerning the use of motorized golf carts within city limits.
The amendment would no longer allow the operation of golf carts on city streets, alleys, sidewalks or other public property.
At the Sept. 13 council meeting, Interim Police Chief Johnson discussed the matter of clarifying the existing ordinance on the use of golf carts with the council. They approved a moratorium on the ordinance and permitting process for golf carts being operated within city limits.
The matter was reviewed again on Jan. 5. At that time, the council referred the matter to staff for a recommendation.
After reviewing the state statute, Police Chief Appel prepared a response recommending the current ordinance be amended, stating that the city either repeal the ordinance or amend the ordinance requiring individuals operating golf carts be required to hold a valid Minnesota driver's license.
At the March 14 council meeting, the council directed staff to prepare an ordinance amendment disallowing the use of golf carts within city limits.
At Tuesday's meeting, several city residents and business owners spoke in favor of continuing to allow the use of golf carts.
One such constituent, Nels Peterson, a Park Rapids resident, addressed the issue.
"I was drawn to come here because of an article I read in the newspaper about golf carts possibly being banned from the city," Peterson said.
He read aloud to the council an article that was published in The Detroit News in April 2015 titled "1900 through 1930: The years of driving dangerously," written by Bill Loomis which describes the transition when horses were the primary mode of transportation and the world began ushering in the use of motor vehicles and the dangers it presented.
"From this the writer asked, 'Is the automobile inherently evil?' and his question led me to ask 'is the golf cart inherently evil?' And that's a resounding no, it's not," Peterson said. "Imagine if automobiles had been deemed inherently evil and they were banned at that time when they were going through that gray area. Fortunately, some of the public was able to overcome their fear and instead muddled through the fear and embraced the problem."
Peterson added that, even though there are genuine dangers that exist with golf carts on the roads and the likelihood of someone getting hurt is real, he feels that it is grossly overblown.
"At first glance, the golf cart ordinance doesn't seem like something the chamber would be concerned with," said Nicole Lalum, executive director of the Park Rapids Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce. "However, in the interest of accessibility to our local members, it is an issue we are tracking very closely."
She said that at a recent chamber board meeting they discussed the matter at length and decided to poll their members, sending an email to businesses within city limits and the immediate vicinity. The one question survey stated, "Do you believe that golf carts should be allowed within the City of Park Rapids?"
There were only four options to choose from. They received 84 responses to the survey: 68 percent of the respondents responded with "yes" and "probably," only 11 respondents said "no" and 11 responded "not really, but I'm not that concerned."
"For our members safety, access, mobility and livability all play a vital role in the economic vitality of their businesses. When the city cracks down on multimodal forms of transportation you dramatically decrease the access that our residents have to our area businesses, you reduce that resident's ability to engage in your community and you isolate people," Lalum said. "That isn't the friendly, welcoming Park Rapids that I heard about in our recent branding discussion groups. It isn't the warm, inviting Park Rapids that new seasonal residents who move into our area eventually want to retire to."
"I just want to point out that there was not any authorized golf carts being operated in Park Rapids prior to all of this discussion, not one," Councilmember Erika Randall said.
"Maybe we shouldn't just get rid of it. Maybe there isn't a problem. How do we know there's a problem if there's never been any golf carts?" Councilmember Ryan Leckner questioned. "I know there's been some driving, but we've never enforced it either. Is it any different pulling over a golf cart than it is pulling over a car?"
"In essence, it would be the same," Chief Appel responded. "You would be stopping them just like a motor vehicle because they're not free to leave at that point if you're stopping them for breaking an ordinance or a state statute."
"I just don't think that it's worth the enforcement. I don't think that's what our police department should be focusing on," Randall said, adding that the current ordinance would need a lot more work if the council chose to allow the use of golf carts.
Co-chair of the Downtown Business Association and local business owner Molly Luther also addressed the council.
"I spend a lot of time on Main Street and with our current ordinance, golf carts are not a nuisance on Main Street," Luther said, adding there is one golf cart that is visible at some times. "I don't think that that would be a reason to remove the ordinance completely and disallow it for anybody that was a law-abiding person that wanted to use a golf cart in the future. I'm not saying that this couldn't be added if the demand was there in the future, but instead of putting that barrier up for future residents if we could work with the ordinance that we currently have and enforce it, I think that that is a more welcoming and accessible stance for the city to have."
Peterson asked the council further if there had ever been any fatalities, accidents or tickets issued involving golf carts.
"The golf cart is the most unthreatening vehicle there is on the road and it's appalling that you would even think that you would deny somebody the opportunity to drive into town with that," he said. "I don't know where you come up with that conclusion of such fear. We have never muddled our way through the process to make the system work and you've already thrown your hands in the air. I'm dissatisfied."
"I just don't think that we should nix it with that much concern. I know there's some tweaking we'd have to do, but our constituents are concerned about it," Leckner reiterated.
After hearing much opposition from their constituents, the city council moved to approve the first reading of the ordinance amending the Park Rapids City Code of Ordinances regarding motorized golf carts. Councilmembers, Liz Stone, Erica Randall and Mayor Pat Mikesh voted in favor of the motion, with councilmembers Ryan Leckner and Dick Rutherford opposed.
In other business, councilmembers did the following:
• Approved a resolution acknowledging the retirement of Volunteer Firefighter Scott Burlingame after 20 years of service and authorized staff to advertise for the vacant position.
• Approved a backhoe operator's license to Ralph V. Sanquist Construction Inc. to work in the City of Park Rapids in 2017.
• Approved the low quote of $6,000 from Johnson Jet-Line to televise the aged, clay tile sanitary sewer lines for the Public Works Department.
• Approved the purchase of three tasers and associated equipment in the amount of $4,568.99 for the Police Department.
• Approved a payment in the amount of $173,510 to the League of Minnesota Cities for the 2017 insurance premium policy renewal.
• Approved a purchase for the 2017 supplies for maintaining gravel roads, painting streets and crack filling in the amount of $25,603.75 from Cumber Construction, Diamond Vogel Paints and Brock White.
• Approved the purchase of two sets of turnout gear from Heiman Fire Equipment in the amount of $5,680.58 for the Fire Department.
• Approved a resolution authorizing the proper city officials to execute the Task Order No. 9 for main lift station improvements by and between Apex Engineering Group Inc. and the city.
• Authorized proper city officials to execute the Task Order No. 10 for Highway 71 frontage road and underground utility improvements by and between Apex Engineering Group Inc. and the city.
• Approved the first reading of the amended City of Park Rapids Alcoholic Beverages Operation ordinance.
• Approved the additional repair of water damage by Hammer Construction in the amount of $9,625 found during phase one of the City Hall remodel.
The next Park Rapids City Council meeting will be held on Tuesday, April 11 at 6 p.m. in the Park Rapids Library lower level.