Charter change sought to OK golf carts on Millsboro community’s streets

A town charter change is being sought by the town of Millsboro that would allow golf carts to travel on dedicated roads in the Plantation Lakes golfing community. (Delaware State News/Glenn Rolfe)

MILLSBORO — Requested street dedication and golf cart traffic at Plantation Lakes have created an authoritative sand trap for the town of Millsboro and its police department.

The proposed solution: town charter revision under which golf carts would be permitted on public roadways within the Plantation Lakes golfing community — with requirements.

Current Delaware law prohibits the use of golf carts on public roads or streets.

“My suggestion is I’d like to get this worked on as soon as practical, only because if we are annexing these roadways and they are officially in town, and people are riding golf carts, technically they are breaking the law at that point. We haven’t been enforcing that — until we had this worked out,” said Millsboro Police Chief Brian Calloway.

“To our benefit we haven’t had any reported incidents where there has been a problem. My worry is as soon as a problem is created, then we may have to switch gears and say, ‘OK, no more golf carts until this done.’”

After lengthy discussion, Millsboro council, at its Dec. 2 meeting, approved the request from Lennar Homes representatives for annexation/dedication of approximately a dozen streets in the growing Plantation Lakes community.

“Basically, some of the roads are in town, some of the roads are not,” said Millsboro Town Manager Sheldon Hudson.

“So, the question is, under state law, there are restrictions in terms of when golf carts/low-speed vehicles can be operated on public streets. That is the issue we are trying to work through, coordinating with Lennar and making sure that their sales folks with their prospective buyers are aware there still is an unresolved issue here.”

“We don’t want to end up being perceived as the ‘bad guy’ or the ‘bad cop,’ writing warnings and issuing tickets when really all the chief is trying to do is enforce state law,” said Mr. Hudson.

A charter change must be approved by the Delaware General Assembly. The legislative liaison for town’s request is 41st District State Rep. Rich Collins, R-Millsboro. Initially, the plan was to propose a statewide House bill.

“When I first started thinking about it, I was just thinking about a regular bill,” said Rep. Collins. “But the problem there is it would apply to every other similar community in the state. I talked to state police, and they weren’t in favor of it, and I just knew in New Castle County, somewhere or somebody would say ‘no way’ and it would never go anywhere.”

“So, if they do it as a charter change it only applies to Millsboro. State police said they wouldn’t have any problem with that,” said Rep. Collins. “I think it would just be a whole lot easier, and also there is no point in me legislating things for people in Kent or New Castle County.”

“(Rep. Collins) initially drafted a House bill, thinking that would be the better route but has kind of changed his tune. He is wanting to do a charter change at this point,” Mr. Hudson said. “It would still be a bill. The difference is instead of having statewide implications, it’s localized to Millsboro. I think he is right. I think the prospects of a bill like that getting passed are a lot greater. There is less risk of opposition.”

Issues of concern in Plantation Lakes are use of carts on roads and golf “crossovers” as well as house-to-house traffic.

“There was the issue of crossovers … and there was also the issue of house-to-house transit of golf carts,” said Mr. Hudson.

There were no crossovers in the bank of street dedications approved Dec. 2 by council. The next anticipated street dedication request is projected for spring of 2020. Town officials are hopeful the issue can be resolved with legislative approval of charter revision by the next requested round.

“Our recommendation would be since there are no crossovers, we’re OK with recommending that council move forward,” said Mr. Hudson. “But we would say that this would be the last time. We would expect that working with Lennar, that they would make a good faith effort to get this issue resolved. Lennar is aware that this has been a concern of the town for quite some time. Lennar has been receptive.”

Millsboro town solicitor Mary Schrider-Fox noted there is model legislation at the state level that could be “tailored” to suit Millsboro’s needs.

Golf carts would be restricted solely to use within the golfing community. The game plan is that carts would be required to have safety features such as headlamps or lights, brakes, and be insured (possibly through homeowner’s insurance).

Operators would be required to have a valid driver’s license for roadway travel.

Councilman Jim Kells suggested charter revision could stipulate that golf carts be required to be registered through the town.

Chief Calloway said Cambridge, Maryland does that currently.

“They have a very similar program. The police department inspects the golf carts. They have a registration,” said Chief Calloway. “This is something that is done relatively close.”

Rep. Collins said the charter change request could be submitted as early as late December. The General Assembly convenes in mid-January 2020.

“As soon as they get it for me … in late December I could do what is called pre-file. If not then, then in January,” Rep. Collins said. “I just wanted to get it done fairly early because we only have 40-some days in the session, and the time goes fast. I want to get it in there early and get it over with. If we wait to that last-minute rush, then who knows what will happen.”

“A lot of residents of Plantation Lakes are concerned about the issue. The chief doesn’t want to be in a position where he has to start writing warnings and issuing tickets,” said Mr. Hudson. “As far as my recommendations moving forward, we’ve got to get this resolved soon. We can’t continue to kick the can down the road.”

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