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East Lyme — Drivers with Connecticut licenses will soon be able to operate golf carts on town roads within five Niantic beach communities.
The Board of Selectmen voted Wednesday to allow the use of golf carts on town roads that have posted speed limits of 25 mph or under, in the communities of Crescent Beach, Oak Grove Beach, Black Point Beach Club Association, Old Black Point and Saunders Point.
The approved regulation, which stipulates certain restrictions, will be effective May 12.
Under state law, licensed state drivers can operate golf carts during daylight hours on roads with speed limits of no more than 25 mph, if a town enacts an ordinance specifying which roads are permissible.
The board had previously excluded Attawan and Giants Neck Heights in the golf cart proposal for safety and traffic reasons. The selectmen also removed Giants Neck Beach and Pine Grove from the regulation on Wednesday, after learning their boards of governors opposed golf cart use for reasons including limited parking and busy streets.
The Board of Selectmen's decision followed a public hearing earlier Wednesday that drew about 50 residents. Some spoke in support of golf carts on certain town roads and received applause, while others raised concerns.
"We really see a need," said resident Sally Cini, who proposed the idea earlier this year of allowing golf carts in Black Point.
Though the Board of Selectmen in 2010 denied a proposal to allow golf carts in all beach communities due to liability concerns, Cini, along with resident Robert Shea, asked the board to revisit the issue at several board meetings earlier this year. Their reasons in support of golf carts included easier navigation of roads, alleviation of parking and improved access to beach areas for senior citizens and the disabled.
Concerns included the potential for children to access the golf carts as well as enforcement of their proper usage. First Selectman Paul Formica responded that enforcement will fall on the police department.
Barbara Johnston, a Black Point resident, said the board had denied golf cart usage in 2010, when she had been a proponent of the issue. She asked them to again deny it and offered various reasons.
"My own auto insurance will not even cover a golf cart," she said. She also said that there should have been a full meeting of the taxpayers of Black Point on golf cart usage before any recommendations were made.
Responding to concerns about children accessing golf carts, resident Susan Coggins explained that parents are responsible for supervising their children. She also pointed out that golf carts can cost about $10,000.
"I think the people who buy it will be the people who need it," she said.
In board discussions, Selectwoman Holly Cheeseman agreed and said that the people who really need them will use them, and she doesn't anticipate overcrowding on the town roads.
Selectman Mark Nickerson also said that while auto insurance would not typically cover the golf carts, there are specific plans that can be obtained to cover them.
Under the town regulation, residents would need to register the golf cart with the public works department for a $35 fee. Only four passengers would be allowed in each golf cart. The golf carts would also need specific equipment, including a flag, locking brake, head lamps, brake lamps, operable horn, rearview mirror and seat belts for passengers in the rear, according to the town regulation.
The selectmen also said they could later amend the ordinance to remove beach associations, if those communities ultimately decide golf carts aren't suitable for them.