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Resident Larry Carter asks Buckhannon City Council to reconsider an ordinance that outlaws the operation of ATVs in city limits.

City council to consider lifting prohibition against all-terrain vehicles in municipal limits

BUCKHANNON – Off-roading enthusiast Larry Carter wants to be able to ride his all-terrain vehicle on all terrains – including Buckhannon city streets.

And he believes he’s not the only one.

Carter appeared before Buckhannon City Council at its Thursday meeting to appeal to city officials to review and perhaps, rethink, an ordinance that outlaws the driving of ATVs in city limits.

Ordinance 301, enacted in May of 2001, outlaws “the operation of all-terrain vehicles upon all public streets, alleys, sidewalks, parking lots and any and all governmentally-owned, leased or controlled property,” according to a copy of it on the city’s website.

Carter explained “giant strides” had been made in the safety and operation of ATVs, UTVs and side-by-sides.

“The state of West Virginia has come up with a plan to make ATVs street-legal,” Carter said, referencing Senate Bill 690, “and I would like to see the city to try to review that ATV ordinance, 301, and see if it could be amended or if it can be rescinded [so that] ATVs would be legal on the streets within the City of Buckhannon.

“I don’t know how popular that would be, but I think that people like myself who are responsible ATV riders would like that opportunity just so that we could get to some place where we could ride our ATVs rather than just loading them up on a trailer and taking them places,” Carter added.

Carter said he understood the pitfalls of allowing ATVs on city streets.

“When they get on the street, there are going to be some people who aren’t going to obey the law – just like motorcycle riders and car drivers, but the majority of us are responsible,” he said. “So, I’m wondering if you could please take time some time to review that ordinance and see what could be done.”

City recorder Randy Sanders asked what making ATVs ‘street-legal’ entailed, and Carter listed a number of measures that included the addition of turn signals, mufflers, speedometers, horns, headlights, tail lamps and adequate seating for passengers.

“My side-by-side, for example, won’t run unless my seatbelt is on,” Carter said. Additionally, he said ATVs must be registered, licensed and insured just like automobiles and motorcycles; however, he noted the cost of outfitting an ATV so it’s classified as ‘street-legal’ could range between $1,000 and $1,500.

Councilman CJ Rylands said in the past, he had pondered the possibility of allowing golf carts on city streets.

“Several years ago, I was advocating to allow golf carts on city streets, but at that time, the only option was a low-speed vehicle, which was basically a cart that would go 40 mph or something like that,” Rylands said. “In the state law, does it restrict the speed limit you can go or roads you can travel on?”

Carter replied that ATV riders were permitted to drive on county roads and state roads, but not on interstate highways.

“We can actually be on Route 33 because it’s not considered an interstate highway,” Carter said, “but most of the riding is done on county roads and backroads so we can get to places where we can get in the mud and get in the water.”

Rylands said he was not opposed to re-evaluating Ordinance 301.

“I’m all for more individual freedoms and the state has decided this can be good for economic development and recreation, so [we could consider this],” he said.

City attorney Tom O’Neill specified that the current ordinance was a “full-on prohibition” of ATV riding in municipal limits. He said Senate Bill 690, which Carter had referenced, did not invalidate the city’s current ordinance.

“The state law that was changed, Senate Bill 690, does not affect our municipal ordinance,” O’Neill said. “[It has to do with] making the special-purpose vehicles ‘street-legal,’ but as far as the state goes, the municipality still has the power to keep them prohibited within city limits.”

Whether council wants to keep ATV riding banned within the city is essentially “a policy decision that council would have to consider,” O’Neill said.

“I think it’s important to ask, ‘Do the justifications or reasons for the ordinance in the first place still exist or do they not exist?’ he added. “It’s not a matter you probably want to make a decision on quickly. It’s probably something that would merit some study from council’s perspective.”

An amendment to, or repeal of, Ordinance 301 would have to be passed as a separate ordinance to invalidate the current ordinance, O’Neill said.

City councilman Jack Reger said he had some reservations about the matter.

“I wrote down the word responsible, and to me, that’s the bigger crux of the issue — not everyone is a responsible citizen like you,” Reger told Carter. “I’d like to talk to Chief (Matt) Gregory and hear what his perspective would be. The one thing we don’t want to have happen in our neighborhoods is to have four-wheelers buzzing around at 11 or 12 o’clock at night disrupting the neighborhoods.”

Sanders said he thought council “needed to take a good look at the ordinance,” and mayor Robbie Skinner agreed.

“I think the council has shown general interest, and this could make us a more welcoming community,” Skinner said. “We’ll work on it with our city police chief and city attorney, and maybe we’ll have a draft ordinance prepared in a few meetings or so.”

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