Council chambers at Mound City Hall took in some two dozen people May 11 for what was to be a vote on ordinance changes that, if those changes got approved, would have changed absolutely nothing—except that in practice it certainly looked to those in attendance like it would have made a very large change.
Mound city council had been scheduled to vote on adding clarifying language to its code that would have specifically prohibited the use of all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) and utility task vehicles (UTVs) on city streets. Use of these vehicles on private property would still be allowed, and the amendment would not have affected the use of snowmobiles.
But after nearly 20 people—all but one of them in opposition to the ordinance amendment—spoke their case over the course of two hours, and with the input of another 11 people having already come in as written comments prior to the meeting, council put the brakes on the issue and made no decision on the amendment Tuesday.
“You guys all came out on a Tuesday ‘til 9 o’clock to tell us what you feel and I’m definitely listening to that and I hope we all are,” said council member Jason Holt. Holt early on, prior to public comment, had asked whether the amendment might be modified to allow limited use of ATVs and UTVs.
A friendly poll taken after hearing from residents replaced a formal vote on the ordinance, and all five of Mound’s elected officials showed themselves amenable to delving into the nuances of ATV and UTV usage in Mound before again considering an ordinance amendment.
Council members Holt and Phil Velsor will be joining city staff and at least one stakeholder with the Orono Police department to further review the city’s policy on ATV and UTV usage. and what, if anything, can be done to balance safety concerns with Mound’s recreational character.
“I think we can reach an agreement that will satisfy all,” said council member Sherrie Pugh, who said she was most concerned about public safety and pointed out that Mound’s street system was also its pedestrian system.
Many of the residents who came out last Tuesday framed their arguments with Mound being a recreational city where many residents—and especially those more inland—might use one of these vehicles to get down to the lake or, in winter, across the lake to their ice house.
Some also said they feared that prohibiting their use would only stratify the city.
In Mound, there’s no need to have a multi-million dollar home to enjoy the kind of life that comes with it, said one resident who added that he didn’t have an ATV or UTV himself but that many did so that they could have better lake access. “This [ordinance] would make it more difficult for regular folks just to be on the lake.”
Another resident was more forceful, saying that “the affluence in this community is getting absurd” and that the issue was really, at least in part, about trying to push out those who can’t afford a home right on the lake.
But the city’s decision to look into ATV and UTV usage wasn’t about restricting lake access but about addressing an “overreach” by those who would take their UTVs straight across town, said Mayor Ray Salazar.
Velsor, too, had earlier in the meeting said that he foresaw some difficulty in figuring out how to permit these vehicles in a way that they wouldn’t be everywhere.
Minnesota statute leaves it with local governments to decide whether to affirmatively permit the use of these vehicles. Both Waconia and Prior Lake began permitting the use of ATVs and UTVs last month. But neither Mound nor Hennepin County currently has a permitting process for them, and city manager Eric Hoversten explained that this lack of affirmation effectively “leaves the switch turned off” for their use in Mound.
“This action is just to affirm what is currently in place, and is not taking any rights away that exist today,” reads a portion of the memo Hoversten sent to council ahead of last Tuesday’s meeting. “It is providing clarity and justification to affirm the status quo.”
But the “status quo” in practice has looked a bit different. For the most part, it hasn’t been much of a problem: Chris Fischer, deputy chief at the Orono Police department, said that he’s seeing more and more UTVs but also that he believes the number of tickets issued for their use is “probably incredibly low.”
Fischer said, too, that there is confusion around the use of these vehicles—which ones can be used and where and with what requirements (like lights or licensing). Sometimes, “people just don’t know what is legal and what isn’t legal,” he said, noting that many of the outfits that teach ATV or UTV operation are based in outstate Minnesota where regulations on their use might be more lax.
No definite timeline has yet been determined for bringing the issue back to council. A draft of the ordinance as originally presented May 11 is available on the Mound city webiste.