Manatee County commissioners flummoxed by golf cart issue

skennedy@bradenton.comSeptember 18, 2013 

MANATEE -- Manatee County commissioners, flummoxed by state and federal regulations, said Tuesday they are unable to help residents who want to legally use golf carts along U.S. 301.

"It doesn't look good for retrofitting U.S. 301 to accommodate golf carts," said Commissioner Betsy Benac about requests from Colony Cove residents to drive carts on the sidewalk.

"We've tried everything," said Commissioner Carol Whitmore, noting the commission can't craft a local ordinance to accommodate golf-cart use along a four-lane state highway.

Lynn Mercer, government and community affairs chairwoman for the Colony Cove Homeowners Association, representing 2,207 residents, sat at the work session.

"It's absolutely impossible," she agreed.

For years, Colony Cove residents have sought to use golf carts along the highway but Tuesday's work session crushed their hopes.

Some Colony Cove residents have been ticketed by police but keep doing it anyway, said Mercer.

Ron Schulhofer, county public works director, was sympathetic about the plight of Colony Cove residents, but said the county was handcuffed by arcane state and federal regulations.

He recommended county commissioners do what they could within legal parameters to specify where golf carts should be allowed.

He told the board it needs to modernize its policies, which he termed "extremely outdated," and a glaring safety issue.

His staff presented an exhaustive report titled, "Golf Cart Operation Within Manatee County," which reviewed six areas: El Conquistador, Trailer Estates Park, Palm Aire, Tara, River Club and Tidevue Estates.

The report recommended halting golf cart use along a portion of El Conquistador Parkway, which has been upgraded to an arterial road and now carries 8,000 vehicles a day instead of a few hundred. It no longer meets state requirements for golf-cart use, Schulhofer said.

Commissioner John Chappie protested that people are accustomed to using golf carts there, and urged meetings with residents to find alternate routes or other solutions.

"It's not our intent to take anything away from anybody," Schulhofer said.

Commission Chairman Larry Bustle said people bought homes near Manatee County golf courses because they wanted to use golf carts to get around.

"They want to use golf carts: Let's help them do it safely," he said.

The commission made no decision Tuesday, but will take up the matter again at a regular commission meeting.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.

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