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  • Writer's pictureRoger Sims, Journal Staff

Linn Valley resident voices concern over under-age drivers

Updated: Sep 16, 2023

ATVs, side-by-sides, and golf carts are more commonplace in Linn Valley than in any other Linn County community, particularly during the summer as exemplified in this photo of the July Fourth parade. One Linn Valley resident told the city council she was worried that very young drivers could be seriously hurt or killed. (File photo)

By Roger Sims, Journal staff

LINN VALLEY – Cyndee Hughes waited patiently. The Linn Valley resident came on Monday, Aug. 28, to address the Linn Valley City Council on an issue she believed was very important.

As the council worked through its agenda, the second item was to go over the language of the zoning resolution proposed by the city planning commission. Council members discussed definitions and what language needed to be included or deleted from each passage.

When it was time for the citizen forum, Hughes, who was notably nervous, quickly got to the point.

“I’m terrified that a child is going to die,” she said at the end of her brief but heartfelt presentation about the proliferation of young children recklessly driving all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) and golf carts.

She also pointed out that adults were careless in how they allow children to drive those vehicles even when the adults were seated next to them.

As is the council’s custom, it neither discussed nor took action on her request for changes, but they might be serious enough to visit the issue in coming meetings.

Hughes said the event involving her was when an 8-year-old girl driving a recreational vehicle almost ran into the side of her car. But in a packet she handed to the council, there were more instances including a 13-year-old on a four-wheeler weaving across the road and balancing the vehicle on two wheels as he rounded each corner, each recorded on Hughes’ dash camera.

Other instances included a “little girl in the driver’s seat of a golf cart sitting on the edge of the seat because her foot barely reaches the peddle,” parents driving a truck with their 8-year-old riding a four-wheeler behind them, and more than one instance of teens “flying” through the air with their four-wheelers. She noted how some ATV drivers were not paying attention during the Fourth of July parade where more than 100 ATVs and golf carts were in the parade.

Nor were older drivers absent from Hughes’ observations. An older man was driving a single-seat four wheeler with a toddler perched in front of him, she said, and another stopped abruptly in the middle of the road by Bath House No. 2 before turning in.

Hughes packet also contain some suggestions on how to stop the dangerous ATV traffic: requiring people operating those recreational vehicles be 16 years old, have a drivers license, requiring mirrors and helmets, raising penalties and allow officers to stop young drivers.

Corey Murrison, the city’s public safety officer said in a phone interview that while Hughes had not formally complained to his department, he recognized that there were times when young drivers could be a problem. However, he said he had not seen any of Hughes’ recordings.

City ordinance allows children younger than 16 to operate golf carts, ATVs and similar vehicles if they are within 100 feet of an adult that is supervising them. Once those children are old enough to get a valid license, however, they can operate those vehicles on their own.

He did indicate that with the proliferation of four-wheelers and ATVs at the lake development during the summer, there were likely more instances of careless driving.

Most of the meeting, was devoted to hammering out suggestions to the city planners about revising language in the city’s zoning ordinance.

Councilman Lew Donelson, who took the lead in much of the discussion, told fellow council members that from his perspective, the council had three options: receive and adopt the changes in full, decline to receive the changes and send back to city planners, or send back to the planning commission with changes the council would like to see adopted.

The council chose the third option with Donelson pointing out that it was important that the whole council be in agreement on the changes sent back. He said that during the discussion the council should become “zoning experts.”

Mayor Cindy Smith didn’t agree with that, however. “We’re not trying to be experts,” she said, adding that they were just trying to make the changes fit their community.

Nonetheless, the council gave a blanket approval to a new section on short-term residential rental property meeting the definition of a dwelling unit, meaning one room or a suite of two or more rooms used for living and sleeping purposes and having only one kitchen. That definition included recreational vehicles and campers.

However the ordinance would prevent accessory dwelling units – structures located on the same lot as a dwelling unit but are incidental to the primary dwelling – from being used for short-term rentals.

Exempted from that section of the ordinance are bed and breakfast inns, campgrounds, and hotels or motels. It also would exempt any short-term residential property that is fully operational at the date the ordinance is signed into code. Those properties will be considered a nonconforming use.

There was discussion about what would be considered a permanent dwelling. As proposed, the ordinance amendment would consider a recreational vehicle (RV) to be a temporary dwelling structure.

However, Councilman Michael Hemphill questioned that language, pointing out that he lives in an RV.

Mayor Cindy Smith noted that RVs are currently allowed as permanent dwellings now.

City Attorney James Bruns said that while the definition of an RV indicates that it is a temporary dwelling, it doesn’t mean the city can’t allow it as a permanent structure.

There was also discussion about a section that said that all recreational vehicles only be parked in front of a residence for no longer than 96 hours. Hemphill suggested that be increased to 160 hours.

However, Murrison said that regulation would be difficult to enforce during the summer season. It was suggested that perhaps that rule could be suspended as early as May 1 and reinstated on Sept. 30 once the summer crowds have gone.

The council's suggestions will be sent back to the city planners, and Donelson said it could be as long as six months before it was returned for the council's approval.

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