By JOY CRIST
On August 20, the Dare County Board of Commissioners (BOC) unanimously voted to allow golf carts in Buxton on a number of side streets that curl around the borders of N.C. Highway 12, and where the speed limit is 35 mph or less.
Allowing golf carts in Buxton has been a controversial issue since it was first presented to the BOC in 2011, and there are locals on both sides of the fence when it comes to whether golf carts will help or hurt the village.
Per the resolution, golf carts may now be operated in Buxton Village on the following streets where the speed limit is 35 mph or less: Old Lighthouse Road; Cape Point Way, Diamond Shoals Drive, Buxton Back Road, Dippin Vat Road, Cross Way Road, Lost Tree Trail, Rocky Rollinson Road, Webb Lane, Middle Ridge Trail, Crooked Ridge Trail, and Light Plant Road. So essentially, this includes the Hatteras Pines subdivision, and the side streets that border Buxton Woods and the northern motels.
“The good outweighs the not-so-good. For example, you have people who live in Hatteras Pines, and they don’t want to crank up the Suburban or pick-up truck to head to the clubhouse,” said Commissioner Danny Couch in a post-meeting interview. “Visitors will also now be able to take a golf cart [along Lighthouse Road] to Red Drum without clogging up the road and the parking lot.”
“You also have a number of people trying to get their kids to school in the morning, and this reduces the traffic in that area,” he added. “The benefits are there for the local people, no question about it.”
But there’s one concern that looms large for locals – the potential for golf carts on N.C. Highway 12.
Several county officials, (including the sheriff and planning director), noted that golf carts should not be allowed on Highway 12, and while this is indeed the case per the resolution, a number of folks are concerned that this is going to be ignored.
“Everything revolves around Highway 12, and people are going to push the envelope along Highway 12,” said Couch. “The reality is, locals and visitors don’t know the Highway Patrol or the Dare County Sheriff’s Office very well if they think that traffic laws will not be enforced.”
“In my mind, and in the minds of the other commissioners, there are beneficial elements here for everybody,” he added. “Safety concerns have been addressed by excluding Highway 12, we have enhanced the amenities that Buxton can offer which can contribute to the economy, and we are also providing a measure of convenience and safety for the elderly.”
So how did this resolution play out at the meeting, and what do golf cart drivers need to know about the new rules of the road? Here’s a closer look at each of these topics…
About the New Resolution to Allow Golf Carts in Buxton
This isn’t the first time golf carts in Buxton has come to the BOC’s attention.
“This came on the agenda on a prior board back in 2011, and then Hurricane Irene came, and it fell off the radar for obvious reasons,” said Couch. “Then, there was a push to get it back on the agenda in the fall of 2012, and then came Superstorm Sandy. So good or bad, it got punted to this board to deal with.”
At the August 20 BOC meeting, there were two public speakers from the Fessenden Center in Buxton who commented on the proposed resolution to allow golf carts in Buxton. Both were in favor of the measure.
“I think it would enhance the commercial value of Buxton,” said Mike Finnegan, a retired teacher who noted that his grandfather was a county commissioner in 1951. “I believe it would bring revenue, and it would help the elderly. I would not be able to enjoy it because I live on Highway 12, but I see the merits in it.”
Dare County Planning Director Donna Creef outlined where golf carts would be allowed, (essentially on the back roads), and emphasized that N.C. Highway 12 was not on the list, which included crossing areas and / or crosswalks.
County Sheriff Doug Doughtie echoed the assertion that golf cats should not be allowed on Highway 12 in any way, even if it was just to cross from one street to another.
Commissioner Chairman Bob Woodard agreed, and asked Sheriff Doughtie about enforcement if this was ignored.
“Do we have staff that will enforce this and will ticket those [who do not comply?] Because you know it’s going to happen,” said Commissioner Woodard. “They’re going to cross 12, and they’re going to drive on 12.”
“We’re going to write them [a ticket], and we’re going to [temporarily] take their golf cart,” replied Sheriff Doughtie.
In the end, (and after much discussion about additional regulations like requiring registration), the resolution passed unanimously without extra rules.
It’s now been in effect for a few days, and so far, few in Buxton seem to be taking advantage of the new leeway for golf carts – an attribute which could be credited to the inherent local make-up of the village.
“One thing to remember about Buxton is that it doesn’t have the vacation rental volume that the other villages do,” said Couch in the post-meeting interview. “You have a handful of houses on that stretch towards Frisco, some on Old Lighthouse Road, and some additional rental properties scattered about, and that’s about it.”
“I recall the problems people had with food trucks – how it would begin the demise of local restaurants, and hurt their business,” he said. “But it’s pushing a year now. We have two food trucks on the island, only one of which is operational. I just don’t think there’s going to be a mass rush to buy $3,000 and $4,000 dollar golf carts like some people are expecting.”
Golf Cart Operation in Unincorporated Dare County (aka, Hatteras Island)
In the last blog, we covered where golf carts could be operated on Hatteras Island. Here’s a closer look at who can operate golf carts and how, per the Dare County Code of Ordinances:
- A golf cart is defined as a vehicle designed and manufactured for operation on a golf course for sporting or recreational purposes and that is not capable of exceeding speeds of 20 miles per hour.
- No person less than the age of 16 may operate a golf cart on the streets of a specified area as authorized in [the] subsection[s].
- The operation of golf carts in those areas as specified shall be lawful during the hours of 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Eastern Standard Time and 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. Eastern (Daylight) Savings Time until October 1, and from 6:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. until the end of Eastern (Daylight) Savings Time.
- All persons operating golf carts as authorized shall do so in a responsible and safe manner and shall obey all traffic safety laws and traffic control signage.
That last bullet point of the ordinance is a broad rule, but it basically means “Don’t drive like a moron.”
If you have 20 people in the golf cart, are driving intoxicated, are driving in the middle of the road, are ignoring stop and yield signs, and are basically doing anything you wouldn’t do behind the wheel of a car or truck, then you’re doing it wrong.
In fact, it seems that for all of the above rules and regulations, (which includes the areas where golf carts can be operated), “use common sense” is the overlying theme.
Granted, common sense is an entity that can be in short supply at times, but if the majority of users decide to use a little bit of it when they hit the side streets of Buxton, a theoretical new wave of golf carts will hopefully not impact the area traffic. And as Commissioner Couch pointed out, it’s unlikely that Buxton will go from its current state as a quiet village to a Golf Cart Superhighway overnight.
Is this an overly optimistic outlook on what the future of golf carts in Buxton entails? You betcha. But only time will tell if golf carts become a blessing or a nuisance in Buxton, and no matter the eventual outcome, the good thing about these new local laws is that they can always be changed if needed.