East Lyme revisits allowing golf carts in beach areas

East Lyme — Residents could drive golf carts within most beach communities in town if the Board of Selectmen approves an ordinance under consideration.

The proposed ordinance would permit golf-cart driving on roads within the Black Point, Saunders Point, Giants Neck, Pine Grove, Old Black Point, Crescent Beach and Oak Grove communities. Attawan and Giants Neck Heights are not included for safety reasons that range from lack of parking at Attawan to hilly roads, First Selectman Paul Formica said.

The selectmen are revisiting the idea of golf-cart use four years after the board denied a similar proposal to allow golf carts at all beach communities. After much discussion, the board ruled in 2010 against the proposal due to liability concerns, according to newspaper reports at the time.

At various Board of Selectmen meetings since February, a group of Black Point Beach Club Association residents have been asking the selectmen to consider allowing golf carts at their association. They said golf carts, already in use in nearby Old Saybrook, would help residents, particularly senior citizens and disabled individuals, navigate their community.

A 2009 state law allows licensed Connecticut drivers to operate golf carts on roads with maximum speed limits of 25 mph, as long as the municipality adopts a resolution specifying the roads on which golf carts are allowed. The state law also stipulates that the golf carts need a horn and visible flag and can only be operated during daylight hours, according to the Department of Motor Vehicles' website. The DMV does not register the carts, so jurisdiction falls on the town.

Sally Cini of Black Point, who proposed the idea with resident Robert Shea, said in a phone interview this week that golf carts would allow senior citizens or disabled residents to continue to lead an active lifestyle. Some residents live as far as a mile away from the beach, and golf carts could provide an easy way for them to get there and navigate the area. Golf carts are smaller than cars and SUVs so they would also alleviate parking issues by taking up less space, she said.

Small vehicles, whether golf carts or electric cars, are the way of the future, she said: "It's just a more efficient way."

Cini offered counter-arguments to common objections, including liability. She said the town already assumes liability for other resources, such as public playgrounds. In addition, all golf carts need to be insured and are registered vehicles that wouldn't require additional town enforcement.

"In 2014, there are golf carts everywhere," she told the board.

Tom Kelly, chairman of the Black Point association's board of governors, said in a phone interview that Cini and Shea received a positive response when they presented their idea to that board and at its annual meeting. The board of governors indicated support during an informal vote by email, he said.

"The board was unanimous that it has no objection to the use of golf carts within Black Point Beach Club," he said. Kelly added that golf-cart usage would benefit the community, which has about 620 homes and whose roads have a speed limit of 20 mph.

But another Black Point resident said driving golf carts in the area would not be safe. Barbara Johnston said she had originally been a proponent of the use of golf carts on roads but has since changed her mind.

"I now realize how dangerous it is," she said. Johnston said she is concerned about safety, particularly since the beach community has hills. The golf carts would also take up already limited parking, she said.

Johnston also questioned how the town would enforce regulations, since state law allows only Connecticut-licensed drivers to operate golf carts but many residents who live in the beach community may have out-of-state licenses. The association's board of governors should have held a special meeting on the golf-carts issue so residents could voice their concerns, she said.

A public hearing on the proposed ordinance will be held before the special Board of Selectmen meeting on April 23 at a time to be determined.

k.drelich@theday.com

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