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Voters planning to attend tonight's town meeting should be clear about the nuisance ordinance town officials are asking them to approve. The official intent of the ordinance is to protect residents who are annoyed by the growling buzz emitted from the engines of various recreational vehicles as their operators enjoy the thrill of rough and tumble off-road riding.
The ordinance - one of several items on the agenda for the 7 p.m. meeting at Stonington High - makes a clear case for why the town must control these activities. They "constitute a nuisance if not conducted with restraint," producing "noise, dust and air pollution." They "are likely to adversely affect property values within the town and threaten the health, safety and general welfare of people living, visiting or owning property in the vicinity."
The ordinance concedes these activities are "lawful," but need town regulation. The regulations proposed are, however, so invasive, rigid and demanding that they send a clear message: If you get your enjoyment riding dirt bikes, or snowmobiles, ATVs or go-carts, take it elsewhere, because we don't want you here in Stonington.
The proposed rules would prohibit a recreational vehicle on private property from getting within 300 feet of all adjacent property lines or 500 feet of residential dwellings, unless the operator has the written, signed and dated permission of all adjoining property owners and occupants. In other words, unless you own a very large piece of property or have very understanding neighbors, forget about it.
If you do own such a property, don't expect to operate more than four vehicles. Start driving more than that around your dirt track and you need a facility permit, which you are unlikely to get. Oh, and about that track, don't think about making any "mounds, depressions, berms and/or embankments" - in other words all the obstacles that make the activity fun - unless you get "a facility or event permit … obtained from the town." Make sure to use "proper erosion and sedimentation controls."
If somehow you can meet all those requirements, make sure to transport your ATV, snowmobile or dirt bike because you can't drive across state or town roads or town property or any other private property without written permission (make sure you carry it!).
By the way, no operating "within a stream, creek, (or) waterway." If you avoid all other violations, but churn up dust that crosses a faraway property line - that's a violation, too.
The fine for "any of the provisions of this ordinance" shall be $75. So drive through a stream, within 300 feet of a property line, over a hump you shoveled, while kicking up some dust, and it's really going to cost you.
The ordinance was developed in response to complaints filed by residents in a Mystic neighborhood who complained the drone of a dirt bike on a Richmond Lane property was disturbing their peace and quiet. The town's existing nuisance ordinance proved too vague or tolerant, depending on one's perspective, to crackdown on such activities.
This ordinance appears to go too far in the other direction, but going too far may be exactly what townspeople want to do to end the scourge of dirt bikes and ATVs. In helping prepare the Stonington law, Thomas Londregan, the town attorney, reviewed similar ordinances in other towns. This wouldn't, of course, prevent someone from challenging the ordinance in court if it passed.
You can't outlaw litigation, it seems, not even nuisance litigation.