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Elkins Council split on ATVs

ELKINS — Elkins Mayor Van Broughton broke a 5-5 tie by casting his vote to approve on first reading an ordinance allowing ATVs to ride on city streets.

The ordinance now heads to a second and final vote on Dec. 3, after what one council member called a “heated battle” at Thursday’s meeting.

The tie vote came after a lengthy and at time contentious discussion on the ATV ordinance by council members, as well as a motion to send the ordinance back to the committee to be revised — that vote also resulted in a 5-5 tie.

Thursday’s city council meeting began with a public comment period in which three residents spoke about the ATV ordinance, two in opposition to it and one in favor.

Matt Ogden, an Elkins Fire Department firefighter, presented council members with a sheet of information about ATVs and UTVs. He addressed some of the issues surrounding the vehicles, including safety, noise and accessibility.

“Safety of both the vehicle and everyone around lies in the hands of the operator,” Ogden said. “We do not ban cars because of drunk drivers or young kids who act like a fool on our public streets. Please do not punish everyone because some people cannot be responsible.”

Ogden, who first alerted council that the state had passed a new law allowing insured, inspected and registered ATVs and UTVs on state roads other than interstates, divided highways and roads with a speed limit greater than 55 mph, told council members on Thursday that the only roads surrounding Elkins that the vehicles are not allowed on is the Corridor H section of Route 33.

Speaking against the ordinance was Susan Phares of Graham Street, who said she recently moved back to Elkins after 20 years away. She said she was worried about the noise of the vehicles and whether streets’ speed limits will be followed.

“I’m very concerned,” Phares said. “I’m afraid if this passes, I may not want to stay here.”

Nanci Bross-Fregonara, of Boundary Avenue, said she was also concerned about the noise of the vehicles. Bross-Fregonara is a former city council member who has filed to run for the Fourth Ward council seat in the March municipal election.

Later in the meeting, Elkins Police Chief Travis Bennett urged council to pass the ATV ordinance.

“I think there’s some confusion on this ordinance that I’d like to clear up,” Bennett said. “If this isn’t passed, it’s not going to eliminate ATVs in Elkins … Randolph Avenue, Harrison Avenue and 11th Street are state roads. State roads, state rules. We can’t keep them off of it.”

He said not approving the ordinance would only block Elkins residents from leaving their homes on an ATV or UTV and driving to those state roads.

“If I live in Beverly or wherever, I could drive down the Five-lane and then drive right down Randolph Avenue or right down 11th Street and there’s no law that will let us stop that,” he said.

Broughton pointed out that, unless the ordinance is passed, ATV riders driving through Elkins would not be able to turn off Randolph Avenue onto other Elkins streets to eat in a restaurant or to shop.

“Then the people downtown can’t get business. That’s crazy,” the mayor said.

Fourth Ward Councilwoman Karen Wilmoth said ATVs already illegally run past her home on High Street, and that the noise is a problem.

“When summer’s here, here come the ATVs past my house, all day long, back and forth, back and forth,” Wilmoth said. “So if we’re going to pass something, I’d like for us to be a little more specific about where they can drive in the city.”

Wilmoth made a motion to postpone the vote and then send the ATV ordinance back to the Rules and Ordinance Committee to be revised.

A role call vote on Wilmoth’s motion ended tied, 5-5, with Wilmoth, Fourth Ward Councilwoman Marilynn Cuonzo, Fifth Ward Councilman Dave Parker and First Ward representatives Judy Guye and Rob Chenoweth voting in favor of the motion.

Voting against the motion were Second Ward representatives Charlie Friddle and Mike Hinchman, Third Ward representatives Chris Lowther and Carman Metheny, and Fifth Ward Councilwoman Linda Vest.

Broughton then broke the tie by voting against sending the ordinance back to the committee for revisions.

“It came out of the committee once and it’s on the floor,” Broughton said in making his vote. “I’m going to vote no on sending it back to the committee.”

“I’m not for this ordinance at all,” Cuonzo said. “I think the legislature of the state of West Virginia was crazy. It’s just like anything and everything is OK. What about people who want to live in a peaceful city? I’m tired of it, I really am. I’m not going to vote for it, I don’t care.”

“If you limit where they can go in Elkins, you’re going to limit people like Mr. Ogden, who can’t get off of his street onto the area where they’re allowed to ride,” Lowther said. “You’re still cutting them off.”

“Well, that depends on where they live,” Wilmoth said.

“I bet you he gets on it and rides it anyway,” Lowther said. “I would.”

“Oh my!” Phares said from the audience. “That’s our city council.”

Broughton then asked for “this back and forth” between council and the audience to stop.

“You know, it occurs to me that this is a very heated conversation about recreation,” Parker said. “We’re not talking about a necessity for households. This is about a recreational thing, and for those who can afford this toy, we’re having this heated battle. And so, frankly, I’m wondering, what the hell is the matter with us? Let’s get this in perspective.”

Council then tied 5-5 on the ATV ordinance vote. Voting in favor of the ordinance were Hinchman, Friddle, Lowther, Metheny and Vest.

Voting against the ordinance were Guye, Chenoweth, Cuonzo, Wilmoth and Parker.

“OK, this is the first reading of a two-reading ordinance,” Broughton said in breaking the tie. “I’m going to vote yes that it goes on to the second reading. And again I ask the public to contact their council members and myself on any information.”

After Thursday’s meeting, Broughton told The Inter-Mountain, “We have 13 streets in our town that are considered state-maintained. People can already ride ATVs on them legally, 13 streets in our town. That’s my concern. I don’t think many of us realized that until tonight.”

The second reading of the ATV ordinance will be at 7 p.m. Dec. 3 in City Hall.

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