Millsboro cancels bid to allow golf carts on town roads

At its Monday meeting, Millsboro Town Council voted 4-1 to withdraw its 2020 request to the state legislature for a proposed town charter change that would allow golf carts on town-maintained roadways in certain subdivisions, such as Plantation Lakes. (Delaware State News/Glenn Rolfe)

MILLSBORO — Through a motion to rescind, Millsboro officials have withdrawn their 2020 pitch to Delaware’s General Assembly seeking a town charter change that would legally allow golf carts on certain town-maintained roads, notably within Plantation Lakes.

“I like golf carts myself, but I am very concerned about safety,” said Millsboro Mayor Michelle Truitt. “The first person that gets hurt, … I do not want to see that happen.”

Nearly a year ago, Town Council reviewed draft language prepared by Town Solicitor Mary Schrider-Fox.

The final draft, seeking Delaware General Assembly approval of a town charter change that through subsequent town ordinance adoption would allow golf carts on town-maintained roadways with requirements, was sent to state Rep. Rich Collins, R-Millsboro, and state Sen. Gerald Hocker, R-Ocean View, for their consideration.

“I was told that they wanted it. So a bill was put together. I had the bill,” said Rep. Collins. “Then, I started hearing that there were some council members who really didn’t want it. Some checking was done, and it became pretty clear that there was not as much support as there seemed at first. I just put the bill in the drawer to wait to get clarification.”

Millsboro Town Manager Sheldon Hudson explained further.

“I think our delegation was hesitant to actually introduce the bill until they were sure council was on board,” he said. “Rep. Collins had drafted a bill, and it really didn’t get beyond that point because I think, (through) some of the one-on-one conversations that I was having, it seemed like support was waning. Chief (Brian Calloway), to his credit, has been really patient, trying to give council time to work through this. But I think he is starting to get enough complaints now from the residents, that he is like, ‘We’ve got to revisit this.’

“The sense I got from the legislators was they were hesitant to move forward with the bill to amend the charter and wanted some assurance from council that there was a clear, ongoing request for a charter change,” Mr. Hudson said.

Plantation Lakes, a growing town house/single-family home community with approximately 1,100 units and 3,000 residents, features numerous amenities. The list includes a restaurant, swimming pools, tennis courts, fitness centers, pickleball courts and membership options in the Arthur Hills championship golf course that winds through portions of the community.

Initially, Plantation Lakes was proposed as a private, all-inclusive development. Similar private residential communities in Delaware do allow golf carts on roadways.

However, Plantation Lakes has evolved from a private community to public. And the town of Millsboro is incrementally assuming responsibility of streets within it.

“I was in favor of it when it started. It’s supposed to be a private community. I was all in. Whatever happened? I don’t know,” said Town Councilman John Thoroughgood, who preceded Ms. Truitt as Millsboro’s mayor. “I’d be against it (now) due to liability. There are private communities that allow golf carts. That is a different animal from what we are talking about.”

Councilmen Thoroughgood and Ron O’Neal, as well as Vice Mayor Tim Hodges and Mayor Truitt, supported the motion to withdraw the requested charter change.

Councilman Jim Kells, who resides in Plantation Lakes, as does Mr. Hudson, remained steadfast in his support for a charter change request to allow golf carts on town-owned roadways there. Councilman Kells said use of carts could be governed by a 20-mph speed limit, insurance requirements, registration and regulations.

“This is something that we should look at simply because we have a clientele that is moving into this area,” he said. “It is something that is not only enjoyable but also functional. So there are a lot of benefits. I still think that the pros outweigh the negatives.”

Councilman O’Neal cited a worry about liability.

“I can see the allure of that moving into a golf community and being able to do that,” he said, noting that Plantation Lakes is “a public community. The town does own those roads. The liability issue is a big concern. And also, as Councilman Thoroughgood said, the police department is going to be out there night and day to police this.”

Vice Mayor Hodges, who also opposed the initial request back in February 2020, said the charter change would create an extra burden on the town for regulation, registration and enforcement. “I am not in favor of this,” he said.

Two Millsboro council members, Bradley Cordrey and Larry Gum, were not present for the Monday meeting.

Golf carts are presently being driven on roads in Plantation Lakes. Technically, they are illegal, according to Chief Calloway.

Brian Calloway

“The reason why we were taking an approach of waiting was because many of these roads were recently dedicated to the town. Originally, we looked at this because many of the residents that are there, they were there under the old premise of what this would be (a private community),” said Chief Calloway. “While we were doing this research, originally, I understood those residents’ complaints and concerns because it was an issue that they saw as a need. As we looked more into this, I could see that it opened up a larger problem when it came to enforcement. … We’re really making this up as we go. We’re the only town that would be allowing this in Delaware.”

There have not been many objections, he added.

“We don’t get a ton of complaints. I think the reason why we don’t get a lot of complaints is because they are not sure if it is allowed anyway. Many of the residents that live on a town-maintained road are not even aware that it is a town-maintained road because of our gradual enforcement of those issues,” said Chief Calloway. “Have we had accidents with golf carts? No. Have I had complaints or received information that children are riding golf carts on town-maintained roadways? Yes. I got a lot of emails from residents that are wondering where we are. Maybe they’re interested in getting a golf cart, and before they do, they want to know what to do. I think there is certainly a group of people that do want them, but, also, I have a group of people that don’t.

“When I started looking into the enforcement efforts for the person that may be riding illegally, well, how would we enforce it? It would be very difficult,” he continued. “Then, after taking those factors into consideration, and the cost — it’s going to cost the town funding just to allocate somebody to monitor and register all of these. So this became a larger project. At that point, I looked at this and thought that this might not be attainable.”

Chief Calloway added that this issue is uncharted territory for Millsboro.

“Then, I consider … what we would charge them because we are kind of hip-shooting. No other town in the state has done this,” he said. “So if we did cite somebody for an equipment violation, what? It’s not a motor vehicle. I think it’s going to be a big burden.”

The chief clarified that golf carts privately owned by Plantation Lakes residents do not make their way onto the golf course.

“The purpose of folks wanting golf carts in that community isn’t to ride on the golf course. You actually have to use (the course’s) golf carts to go on a golf course. The purpose of these golf (carts) are for transportation between homes or between any of the amenities,” he said.

At Mr. Hudson’s suggestion, council’s decision on a motion to rescind its request included clarification that Millsboro police will begin a tiered enforcement campaign. The plan is to reach out to the new president of the Plantation Lakes Homeowners Association.

“Unfortunately, we’ve been dealt this hand,” said Chief Calloway. “And I think we have to be consistent on what we do with all of our public roads.”