Four Lee County Commissioners voted in favor of the Pine Island Golf Cart Ordinance Tuesday morning, April 23, in a public hearing, with Commissioner Frank Mann dissenting.
"I have to thank the folks on Pine Island in general for the work on this proposal," Commissioner John Manning said. "It has been at least a year and a half. There has been iteration after iteration. We will have to monitor this very closely, but I will go ahead and move the ordinance as it is presented."
Mann questioned the motion.
"I would hope that the motion be crafted in a manner so that it does not have to come back," he said, if things were to change with the ordinance. "Mr. (David) Loveland said they would like to review the whole thing and if there are changes they can make in the speed limit or other things, let him review that first, but authorize them to include that if our DOT feels that it is OK, so they don't have to go through another hearing and back here."
Donna Marie Collins, Lee County assistant county attorney, said Mann's request turns into a public notice issue.
"If you are going to be including provisions like that without an opportunity for the public to comment on those proposals," she said, it becomes a public notice issue. "So, what you can do today is adopt the ordinance and direct stuff to further investigate. If necessary, we will bring back an amendment for consideration and that the public would have an opportunity to comment on that issue."
A hearing process would have to take place again if any changes were to be made.
Mann shared two concerns he had with the proposed golf cart ordinance before the vote was casted Tuesday morning.
"There are two concerns here that trouble me greatly," he said.
The first concern was a safety factor, he said due to the length of Pine Island - 20 miles - which he said, involved a number of roads.
"I know we would like to encourage golf carts as opposed to vehicles and trucks and that sort of thing, I understand that," Mann said. "I am a golf cart owner, a recovering golf cart driver; it is a safety factor."
Mann said he just has a nightmare of what could happen with literally hundreds of golf carts.
"That's a safety factor on Pine Island," he said.
His second concern fell within precedent.
Mann said he had a conversation with a Lehigh resident the night before about golf carts.
"I don't know how I am going to say no to the folks of Lehigh and San Carlos," he said, as well as anywhere else. "This is such a huge precedent and it frightens me."
He said he was not comfortable in supporting the ordinance.
Although Commissioner Cecil Pendergrass voted for the ordinance, he understood how golf cart use could become a headache. He said he lives within a community of 3,000 residents, who all have golf carts, which can cause headaches because you have 12-year-olds driving and 50-year-olds driving under the influence.
It all boils down to enforcement, Pendergrass said, as well as monitoring the golf carts very closely.
Before showing his support for the ordinance, he also addressed the issue of insurance. Pendergrass said if one of the golf carts struck a vehicle without insurance, the driver of the vehicle would be responsible to pay for the damage.
"Your insurance would be picking up the tab at the end of the day," he said.
Pendergrass went on to say that they have had people in Lee County who were killed in golf carts, so they can be dangerous.
"I understand why the community wants it," he said of the golf cart ordinance. "Good luck with it and we will be monitoring it."
According to the ordinance, "All persons who operate or ride in golf carts on roads do so at their risk and peril, and must be observant of, and attentive to the safety of themselves and others, including their passengers, other motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians. The operation of a golf cart on designated roads is strictly prohibited unless the golf cart is operated and equipped in full compliance with this ordinance."
In order to operate a golf cart on designated roads, which does not include Pine Island Road east of Stringfellow Road, or Stringfellow Road between the Jug Creek Bridge in Bokeelia and St. Jude Boulevard in St. James City, an individual must have a valid drivers license in their home state or country.
A golf cart cannot be operated on any bicycle paths, shared-use paths or sidewalks on Pine Island. The golf carts operated on designated roads must be equipped with efficient brakes, reliable steering apparatus, safe tires, a rearview mirror and red reflectorized warning devices on the rear and front of the golf cart.
In addition, the golf carts may not be operated on the designated roads between sunset and sunrise hours. The ordinance also states that the number of occupants in the golf cart will be limited to the number of seats. Every occupant must be seated while the golf cart is in motion.
The ordinance further states that the operation of a golf cart in an unsafe manner is prohibited, golf carts may not be operated in a manner that will obstruct or interfere with normal traffic flow, the golf cart may not be driven or parked in drainage or landscape areas adjacent to the designated roads, golf cart operators are required to observe all applicable state and local traffic laws as if they were operating any other motor vehicle and operators and passengers of golf carts must comply with all applicable state laws.
Phil Buchanan, who drafted the ordinance and spent countless hours conducting town hall meetings, said he expects the next stage to include an educational period in which the Sheriff's Department will issue either warning tickets or violation notices to person operating golf carts on the bike path, persons without a drivers license or to persons driving drunk or possessing alcohol.
"Adjustments in practices, as well as discretion and patience will be required of both golf cart and larger vehicle drivers for the changes provided by this ordinance to work," he said.
Signs will be posted by the Lee County DOT alerting the public as to where golf carts are and are not allowed.