Bill to restrict ATV use is withdrawn

Councilwoman says public reaction to her proposal changed her mind

October 07, 2007|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,Sun Reporter

Throughout the County Council session, Veronica "Roni" L. Chenowith's view of the audience was impeded by the foot-high stack of e-mails topped with a paper weight.

Those messages, as well as more than 100 phone calls in the past three weeks, prompted the councilwoman to rethink her proposed bill restricting the use of all-terrain vehicles.

At the end of the session Tuesday, Chenowith, the longest-serving member of the current council, announced that she was withdrawing the measure before it comes to public hearing. But the Republican said she is not abandoning the cause, pledging to assemble a work group to find "a solution that protects everyone's property rights and quality of life."

The bill, which was patterned after a state ordinance, sought to regulate operation of "off-highway vehicles and go-carts" and limit the times and places recreational riders could use them. The legislation would have banned all-terrain vehicle riding from 8 p.m. to 9 a.m. and banned the vehicles on properties smaller than 5 acres. The measure called for fines of up to $250, and would have made parents responsible for fines incurred by minors.

The bill included a clause encouraging residents to file a complaint form with the Harford County Sheriff's Office against "any property owner who knowingly permits unlawful off-highway vehicle activity on their property."

Council President Billy Boniface said the bill was too restrictive. Though the measure was written to target only ATVs, word of the measure spread and resulted in farmers fearing they would be lumped with recreational riders and banned from using farm equipment. Residents worried whether they could haul firewood, plow their driveways, or ride a golf cart or mo-ped to the mailbox.

Chenowith, whose district includes Fallston, said that before introducing the bill last month, she had compiled at least three years' worth of complaints about dust, noise and crop damage from off-road vehicles. Initially, she suggested getting homeowners associations engaged in the issue, and urged neighbors to communicate their concerns with one another.

"The calls increased to a significant degree that I felt it necessary to bring some relief to those citizens whose quality of life was absolutely being affected," she said.

In the weeks since introducing the measure, Chenowith said she has learned that "most people riding ATVs are decent, responsible citizens sharing an experience with their children."

Chenowith said she received more than 2,300 e-mails and about 100 phone calls - most opposed to the proposal. She found the response to be enlightening and overwhelming.

"Only a handful were absolutely obnoxious and rude, probably the very ones causing the problem," she said.

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

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