Sup­port mixed for golf carts in Golden Beach

New law al­low­ing them there goes into ef­fect Oct. 1

The Enterprise - - News - By JA­SON BAB­COCK jbab­cock@somd­ Twit­ter: @Ja­sonEn­tNews

Golf carts on St. Mary’s County roads will be le­gal start­ing Oct. 1 in the Golden Beach/Patux­ent Knolls neigh­bor­hoods, and the county com­mis­sion­ers are in the process of com­ply­ing with the new law.

At Tues­day’s com­mis­sioner pub­lic hear­ing, two res­i­dents of the neigh­bor­hood spoke in sup­port of golf carts be­ing le­gal­ized on the roads there, while one woman was skep­ti­cal and cited speed­ing is­sues. An­other per­son asked why the law doesn’t ap­ply to the en­tire county.

The law, which was in­tro­duced at this year’s ses­sion of the Mary­land Gen­eral As­sem­bly by Del. Matt Mor­gan (R-St. Mary’s), whose district in­cludes the north­ern part of the county, au­tho­rizes golf carts “equipped with ap­proved light­ing in the com­mu­nity of Golden Beach, Patux­ent Knolls in St. Mary’s County be­tween dawn and dusk” on county roads with a speed limit of 35 mph or less. The golf cart op­er­a­tor must have a valid driver’s li­cense, al­though the golf carts are ex­empt from mo­tor ve­hi­cle reg­is­tra­tion.

Else­where in the state, there are also reg­is­tra­tion ex­emp­tions on snow­mo­biles in Gar­rett County and cer­tain golf carts in Al­le­gany County, on Smith Is­land and in the city of Cr­is­field in Som­er­set County.

Bernie Owens, a res­i­dent of Golden Beach, said, “I think it’s go­ing to be a good thing,” as long as peo­ple abide by the rules and reg­u­la­tions.

Dale An­tosh, pres­i­dent of the Golden Beach, Patux­ent Knolls Civic As­so­ci­a­tion, said he sup­ports golf cart use in the neigh­bor­hoods.

“We hope that it will be bet­ter for our com­mu­nity and not a detri­ment if it’s done right,” he said.

If the new law is abused, “it could be taken away, I would think. We hope to be a good pilot pro­gram,” he said.

But Kathy Harris, an­other res­i­dent of the com­mu­nity, said she was wor­ried about un­der­age driv­ers, driv­ing golf carts at night, stop signs not be­ing fol­lowed and the en­force­ment of the golf cart rules.

Speed­ing is al­ready an on­go­ing is­sue in Golden Beach, she said, and “90 per­cent of the in­ter­sec­tions are un­safe be­cause of over­grown veg­e­ta­tion.” She wanted to know if golf cart driv­ers would be in­sured. Golf cart use “is just es­ca­lat­ing in the com­mu­nity. If you add higher risk to an area, your per­sonal in­sur­ance rates go up. I don’t know if you’re aware of that,” she said.

The speed limit on a sec­tion of Golden Beach Road would have to be re­duced from 40 mph to 35 mph in or­der to com­ply with the new law.

Harris said, “No one obeys those. I obey the speed limit. I am tail­gated. I have peo­ple rid­ing my bumper. I have peo­ple blow­ing their horns at me be­cause I’m go­ing 30 mph in the 30 mph zone. By re­duc­ing the speed limit and putting new signs out is not go­ing to ad­dress the is­sue.”

John Groeger, deputy di­rec­tor of the St. Mary’s County Depart­ment of Pub­lic Works and Trans­porta­tion, said a speed­ing study was re­cently done in the neigh­bor­hood and the av­er­age speed driven is be­tween 35 and 40 mph in the 30 mph zone.

“That is an is­sue for speed­ing,” he said.

Com­mis­sioner Mike He­witt (R) asked if the sher­iff’s of­fice could be asked to en­force the speed limit. That en­force­ment tends to only tem­po­rar­ily slow down driv­ers, Groeger said. Once the en­force­ment leaves, speed­ing re­sumes, he said.

“That’s a con­cern if you got speed­ers and can’t slow them down,” He­witt said.

Speed humps are $4,000 each, Groeger said, if the com­mis­sion­ers wanted to put those in, but the speed limit would have to re­duced to 25 mph and the to­tal cost would be $28,000.

Asphalt shoul­ders could be built on lower Golden Beach Road, but that would cost be­tween $200,000 and $250,000 on a mile of road. “That’s not real cheap,” Groeger said.

Keith Har­less of Lex­ing­ton Park said he sees golf carts used in the Esper­anza Farms neigh­bor­hood, on Pegg Road and in Piney Point. He wanted to know why the law didn’t ap­ply to all of St. Mary’s County in­stead of just Golden Beach and Patux­ent Knolls.

There was “no stom­ach in An­napo­lis” to le­gal­ize it for the en­tire county, said Com­mis­sioner John O’Con­nor (R), who made the sug­ges­tion to le­gal­ize golf carts on county roads two years ago.

If golf cart use is suc­cess­ful in Golden Beach, per­haps it could be ex­panded to the rest of St. Mary’s, he said.

“It’s small baby steps. We were for­tu­nate to get this done,” he said. Law­mak­ers in An­napo­lis “didn’t even want to do it for Golden Beach, be­cause they’re not fans of golf cart or­di­nances in big mas­sive amounts,” he said.

O’Con­nor said when he first brought up the idea in 2015, it was met with “quite a bunch of laugh­ter,” but “golf carts are used down there in Golden Beach a lot. It took a lit­tle bit of time but we even­tu­ally got there,” work­ing with the civic as­so­ci­a­tion and Mor­gan.

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