Golf carts take the fun of go-karts and add cup holders and a cushy seat. With top speeds and horsepower barely approaching double digits, golf carts are just about the safest way to get from point A to B without walking or peddling. But does that mean they belong on public streets?
The name of their development notwithstanding, the developers of East Village Walk want the Clayton Town Council to endorse street-legal golf carts on downtown streets. Currently under construction near the east end of Front Street, the 300-home development is geared toward adults 55 and older and features a unique design for Clayton subdivisions, with homes facing shared courtyards.
James Lipscomb of Hometowne Realty brought the request to the council at its last meeting and asked for the town’s staff to explore the matter.
“I just wanted to bring it up to you guys, because they would love to see people being able to come from East Village and go downtown on street-legal golf carts,” Lipscomb said. “If you guys would be willing to consider allowing staff to look into it further and see what the pitfalls may be, just to move the idea further along.”
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Generally, golf carts are not allowed on public streets in North Carolina, but a number of communities have adopted ordinances regulating them, including Benson in Johnston County. In 2009, the General Assembly passed a law empowering towns and counties to make the decision themselves, and the N.C. Department of Transportation even has a draft ordinance up on its website. That ordinance, which isn’t necessarily how all municipalities handle golf carts, allows governments to collect fees, require permits and insurance and limit drivers to streets with speed limits no higher than 35 mph.
The council gave the request a skeptical response, and Clayton’s new town manager, Adam Lindsay, said if he had to make a decision that night, it would be a definitive “no.”
“Staff has some real concern about the project, especially on the public-safety side,” Lindsay said. “If it came to a question tonight, staff would not be in favor of going in that direction. Staff would not be in favor of putting golf carts on public streets for some very serious public-safety concerns.”
Lindsay, who has been on the job in Clayton for two months now, might be uniquely qualified to talk about golf carts on public streets. Before coming to Clayton, he worked in Southern Pines, which is surrounded by notable golf courses, including the world-famous Pinehurst No. 2. Lindsay said golf carts can cause problems and disruptions.
“I’ve lived and worked near communities that have golf carts, and there were some real concerns,” he said. “Traffic backing up behind them, children driving them, where they park. There’s a lot of questions about it. I think there’s some advantages for businesses, but also, I think in the long term, some disadvantages.”
The council raised more questions than it provided answers. Councilman Bob Satterfield said he’s a personal fan of golf carts and doesn’t mind them on downtown streets, but he fretted about the particular layout of East Village Walk and its alley-like streets.
“I love a golf cart, you know I do,” Satterfield said. “I’ve got one at the beach. What concerns me, not on our roads so much, but on the roads inside their development, aren’t they a little more narrow than normal roads?”
Satterfield said he was “open to it, absolutely,” but suggested a geographical boundary might be in order, saying what might be OK for downtown might not fly elsewhere in town.
“On the Front Street development, that would be ideal, it’s close to downtown,” Satterfield said. “I don’t know that we could do a town-wide thing because of other developments needing the main roads to go anywhere. We’ve had issues in the past in Glen Laurel.”
The council ultimately directed town staff to look into the legality of golf carts and to check in with any problems in Benson, which legalized carts mostly for its annual Mule Days festival.
Councilman Butch Lawter said he’s open minded but needs some concrete reassurance on this one.
“This is the reason I love James; he’s creative and outside the box,” Lawter said of Lipscomb. “But you’re going to have to show me something on this one. Just bring me some information and I’ll consider it.”