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East Lyme — Among the cars, bicycles and motor scooters, golf carts have cropped up this summer in several driveways at the Black Point Beach Club Association and other neighborhoods.
East Lyme, and most recently Stonington, have become the latest communities in the area to allow golf carts in designated neighborhoods. The towns follow the lead of Old Saybrook, where residents have been driving golf carts for years.
Several Black Point residents who championed an ordinance this year said golf carts are convenient and allow people, especially senior citizens and the disabled, to easily navigate streets. Still, several other residents raised concerns about enforcement of the ordinance or the potential for accidents or for underaged people to drive the carts.
The Board of Selectmen approved the golf cart ordinance this spring after first deciding against golf cart usage five years ago.
But as the summer winds down, few residents in town have taken advantage of being allowed to drive the vehicles on specified town roads in certain neighborhoods with speed limits under 25 mph.
So far, 14 people have registered golf carts, said East Lyme Resident Trooper Sgt. Wilfred Blanchette III. By comparison, there are about 350 registered golf carts in Old Saybrook, which was a pioneer in allowing them, said Old Saybrook Police Chief Michael Spera.
East Lyme's Black Point Beach Association Manager Tom Sheehan estimates that there have been about eight golf carts in Black Point this summer, so it hasn't brought much of a change to the neighborhood. He said some of the people who use golf carts really need them to get around.
The association notified residents of the new ordinance and rules for parking the carts within Black Point. He said he tells residents to report any concerns to the town police department, because the police are in charge of enforcing the ordinance. He also stressed the importance of safety, because he said golf carts are involved in thousands of accidents a year.
"I'm all for them, as long as nobody gets hurt and people use their good judgment," Sheehan said.
He said he has heard some people aren't purchasing golf carts because they say they would have nowhere to store the vehicles during the winter. Also, many people don't see a need, because they prefer to walk or drive their cars to the beach.
"Probably as time goes by, as summer goes by, maybe more people will decide they're going to get one," he added.
Suzanne Smith, a Black Point resident and editor of the Black Pointer newsletter, agreed that only a few are using the golf carts so far, but there are more on the horizon.
Smith, who recently bought a golf cart, said she enjoys using the vehicle to take her sons to the beach and bring their beach gear with them, or to stop by the market to get eggs and milk. Since first using the cart, she said she has also come to realize that it's great for stopping on the side of narrow roads to say hi or chat with neighbors.
"For me, it's a way to explore the community and get to know people," she said.
State law permits towns to enact ordinances to allow residents to drive golf carts during daylight hours on specified town roads with speed limits of 25 mph or under. To drive a golf cart, people have to be licensed state drivers, register the vehicle and follow other rules. After state law banned their usage, state Rep. Marilyn Giuliano, R-Old Saybrook, got special legislation passed so people could continue to drive golf carts, according to newspaper reports at the time.
Several communities in East Lyme have decided golf carts aren't for them. The Board of Selectmen excluded certain beach communities for safety and traffic concerns in its original proposal this spring; others voluntarily removed themselves. Most recently, the Crescent Beach Association board of governors voted at its August meeting to opt out of the ordinance. That means Saunders Point, Black Point, Old Black Point and Oak Grove are the only beach communities that allow golf carts on their roads.
Blanchette said there have been no enforcement issues related to the golf carts so far. The police have color-coded the inserts for the license plates by neighborhood, he said.
Sheehan also said there have been few issues with the allowed use of golf carts at Black Point. Some residents were concerned after spotting a young girl driving a golf cart, but that use quickly stopped after it was reported.
Spera, the Old Saybrook police chief, said police have received very few complaints, and the number of complaints has drastically decreased each year.
Residents in East Lyme said they have gotten accustomed to spotting the golf carts, particularly on weekends.
Julie Sullivan said Thursday in Black Point that the golf carts are convenient, especially for people who are carrying a lot with them to the beach.
Sullivan doesn't own a golf cart herself, but she said she enjoyed taking a ride on a friend's cart. Golf carts were even part of Black Point's Fourth of July Parade, she said.
In Stonington, the Board of Police Commissioners on Aug. 15 approved a one-year trial of golf cart use in the Lord's Point neighborhood. The commission will review the use in September 2015.
Stonington Police Chief J. Darren Stewart stressed that golf cart users will have to obey a number of state laws, including that all drivers have to be licensed and have insurance. Carts will have to be registered, have warning flags, horns and turn signals, and rear-facing passengers will have to wear seatbelts.
He said the police department has ordered license plates, which should be available in two weeks. The annual fee to register a golf cart will be $100 and the one-time fee for a license plate will be $18.50.
Lords Point resident John Dixon, who has pushed for golf carts in the neighborhood, said Lords Point was plotted in 1909 with narrow roadways without space for parking on roads.
Dixon said his wife, who has multiple sclerosis, needs assistance to get around. Between the sand, gravel and uneven lots in the association, a golf cart was the best fit to allow them to drive right up to their door or easily get to activities such as block parties. He said golf carts are also great for his neighbors who have medical conditions or disabilities.
"A golf cart was the solution for us," he said.