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City Council unanimously votes to table golf cart ordinance

SALISBURY — During a public hearing on whether the City Council should pass a golf-cart ordinance, Steve Cobb compared the proposal to peer pressure from his childhood.

Cobb said that when he first heard the council was considering the ordinance, he couldn’t think of why it wanted to other than that several neighboring towns, including Landis, China Grove and Spencer, have passed similar measures.

“That made me think back to when I was a boy and I wanted to do something ill-advised. ‘Everyone else is doing it,’ is the reason I gave my mother,” Cobb said. “Her reply was always, ‘Well, you’re not everybody else.’”

Cobb’s concerns about the ordinance, which revolved around safety and traffic congestion, mirrored many concerns that council members brought up during the nearly 40-minute discussion.

The ordinance, which City Engineer Wendy Brindle said her department and others have been working on since February 2017, would prohibit driving golf carts on or next to streets with speed limits higher than 35 mph. Some streets with speed limits lower than 35 mph would be exempt, including Innes, Main and Fisher.

The ordinance defines golf carts as vehicles “not capable of exceeding speeds of 20 mph.” It says drivers must be at least 16 years old and licensed but does not specify whether golf carts are required to have headlights or brake lights.

“I’m not opposed to the use, but if one person has an accident and gets hurt, that’s on us,” Councilman Brian Miller said.

“I understand that we have neighboring cities and towns that have this ordinance. We are three times the size of these cities,” said Councilwoman Tamara Sheffield. “The number of carts that we’re looking at is concerning to me.”

Miller said he is also concerned about the way the ordinance was written.

“It’s ‘if then, then that’ and ‘you can use this road but if there’s a bridge you can’t.’ There’s a lot of moving parts to this ordinance that probably could be a little cleaner,” Miller said.

Miller, Sheffield and Mayor Al Heggins also expressed concerns that Police Chief Jerry Stokes said he didn’t know how his staff would enforce the regulations.

“To (Miller’s) point, it’s got a lot of moving parts to it that are to a degree necessary but I don’t know how we’re going to have strict enforcement of the golf-cart ordinance,” Stokes said. “Particularly since it is not a higher priority issue because it doesn’t represent a big issue where it is occurring now.”

“If we’re not willing to ensure public safety, maybe it’s not something we’re ready to do,” Heggins said after the public hearing.

Go Burrito owner Mikey Wetzel said he has been pushing for golf carts to be legalized “for a little while.”

He said the ordinance sounds like it was “more confusing than it needs to be” and that the city should model it more closely after China Grove’s.

China Grove’s ordinance allows golf carts that go 28 mph and requires that golf carts be registered.

Wetzel said other cities that have passed similar ordinances have populations bigger than Salisbury.

“I’m not sure why … we’d consider population. I’m not sure I see the relevance because, when you have a bigger community, it’s also more spread out,” Wetzel said.

Wetzel said the council should approve the ordinance to help downtown businesses.

“We’ve got all these downtown businesses (and) we really need people to come out of their homes and shop businesses,” Wetzel said. “Once they’re in their car, they go anywhere.”

The council voted unanimously to table the ordinance until a special committee, to be headed by Councilmen David Post and Miller, can look at it more closely.

Other items on the agenda included:

• The council voted to approve an update to the city’s nearly 40-year-old special events ordinance.

Miller and Post have been working with a special committee for more than a year to update the ordinance.

They presented an updated version at an October 2017 meeting but, after several people spoke against the update because it still had unedited portions about free speech, the council voted to table the update 3-2.

Post and Miller’s committee used a recent meeting to separate the part of the ordinance dealing with free speech into a separate document. That document is still being updated and will be presented to the council later.

Several committee members, as well as Sheffield and Heggins, thanked Miller and Post for working so hard to update the ordinance.

• City Manager Lane Bailey announced several upcoming events.

One is an open house to educate the public on the potential Fibrant-Hotwire lease. It will be held from 4 to 8 p.m. today at New Sarum Brewing.

Representatives from Hotwire will be present to answer questions.

• The council voted to appoint Graham Corriher as the full-time city attorney. He will begin July 1.

Contact reporter Jessica Coates at 704-797-4222.

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