by Eric Hagen
The East Bethel City Council on a split vote has decided to allow ATVs to use city streets.
The 3-2 vote came during the Dec. 20, 2011 council meeting and the change went into effect Dec. 30, 2011.
Councilmember Robert DeRoche Jr., an ATV owner who suggested the change, emphasized that ATV drivers must still obey state and county rules. They can only drive a vehicle that has a valid Minnesota license, so go carts are still not allowed on city streets. The driver of an ATV must have a Minnesota driver’s license, meaning they must be at least 16 years old. Anyone born after July 1, 1987 must complete the safety training test in order to operate an ATV.
DeRoche said people who are reckless drivers or cause noise complaints should be fined under the city’s nuisance ordinance, but people using their ATVs for legitimate purposes should not be punished because some people break the rules.
“People moved up here because it’s somewhere rural,” DeRoche said. “They want to be able to use their snowmobiles and ATVs.”
Snowmobiles will still not be allowed on city streets, however, according to City Administrator Jack Davis. Only Class 1 or Class 2 ATVs, off-road vehicles or off-road motorcycles will be allowed on city streets as long as the person driving or riding in the ATV is an East Bethel resident.
Non-East Bethel residents could briefly be on a city street if their goal is to cross the road to continue riding on another path permitted by the state or county rules. The ATVs could also be on a city street in an emergency situation.
DeRoche, Mayor Richard Lawrence and Councilmember Heidi Moegerle approved the ATV ordinance revision. Councilmembers Bill Boyer and Steve Voss voted no.
One concern Voss had was the city council held no public hearing on the issue of allowing ATVs to use city streets. He suggested including an article in the next city newsletter stating the city was seeking input from residents on this change.
Moegerle asked if there was a seasonal reason to make the change now.
DeRoche responded that some people like to use their ATVs for plowing snow or working on their property. DeRoche said if he wants to use his ATV during the winter to work on his property, he needs to warm it up and driving it on the street is the best way to do that.
In response to Voss’s concern, Moegerle amended her original motion of approval to include a review after 90 days to see if there have been any issues.
Boyer said he agreed with the issue of people wanting to use city streets to get to a trail, for example, but he said this is different than allowing someone to drive their dirt bike in a cul-de-sac for many hours.
A neighbor to the east of Boyer and across the street runs dirt bikes on the property, he said.
He has never complained about the noise, but Boyer said it is annoying to hear the dirt bikes running when he is outside. He noted how the council chambers filled up with people from a neighborhood who were concerned about dirt bike races on a property.
Moegerle pointed out that Boyer had a remedy for his situation, but chose not to assert it.
DeRoche believed the city needed to approve this ordinance revision to see how it would actually work.
“People are going to do it,” DeRoche said. “You might as well control it other than just plain banning everyone from doing it.”
One area of the city that will benefit from this change is Coon Lake Beach.
Moegerle said the Coon Lake Beach area has quite a few residents with ATVs. People use ATVs to launch boats, for example. Because there are no ditches in the Coon Lake Beach area, people would have to ride on the road to get most places unless they live by the lake, she said.
DeRoche said people can now drive their ATV to the grocery store, gas station or the Purple Reign Supper Club. During the summer, they can bring their yard waste to the designated dumpster at the fire station parking lot with their ATV instead of using their vehicles.
Greg Globensky, who grew up in Ham Lake and now lives in East Bethel, said the restrictions cities have put in place has made it difficult to ride ATVs. He used to ride in the area all the time when he was a kid and would stop by Purple Reign, whose parking lot was full of ATVs. He now mostly rides on property he owns north of the Twin Cities.
Globensky just heard about the revised ordinance and wanted to read more about it, but was happy about the possibility of being able to ride his ATV on his city street.
Globensky would also like to hitch a trailer to his ATV that his children could ride in when going trick or treating during Halloween, he said.
“It would be nice if I could cruise a quarter-mile to my buddy’s house and not be worried about getting a ticket,” Globensky said.
Other communities have addressed existing ATV rules to make it easier for ATV riders to get around. In May 2011 Moegerle was at an Oak Grove meeting in which the Oak Grove City Council told the Anoka County Sheriff’s Office to not enforce the ordinance that did not allow residents to ride ATVs on city streets.
The Ramsey City Council last December amended its recreation vehicle use ordinance to allow snowmobiles to use city streets to get to designated snowmobile routes, including south of 167th Avenue where snowmobiling had previously been prohibited.
Globensky said he would be tougher on his kids for following ATV regulations than the government would be.
“I’m a big advocate with my kids going through the training seminar,” Globensky said. “It’s like gun safety. You could kill yourself in a heartbeat.”
Unfortunately, Globensky said there are some people who do not follow the rules and that impacts everyone else who does obey the law.
“Enforcement has got to be a big part of it,” DeRoche said.
Eric Hagen is at firstname.lastname@example.org