The Board of Directors of the Rhinelander Area Chamber of Commerce recently sent a letter to the City of Rhinelander announcing their support of a proposed ordinance that would allow the operation of ATVs and UTVs on city streets.
In the letter, addressed to Mayor Chris Frederickson and the City Council, the Chamber Board said it had conducted research, spoke with groups who have a vested interest in the matter, and determined that the potential financial benefits and advancement of transportation options would "add value to the community and expand our sense of connection."
"As ATV/UTV use continues to grow both state and nationwide, we consider it to be our duty at the Chamber to stay up-to-date with the needs and wants of those in our community. With the City of Rhinelander having a strong work ethic and world-class natural resources, it makes sense to allow residents and visitors an increased sense of accessibility," the letter states.
The board members also noted that they've seen the benefits that other Northwoods communities have experienced allowing ATV/UTV use, while at the same time maintaining safe standards, and believe Rhinelander could see the same advantages if ATV/UTV usage is allowed on city streets.
According to the chamber's executive director, Lauren Sackett, the letter was prompted by a suggestion from a member.
"A Chamber Member reached out to us asking if a statement would be issued from the Chamber regarding ATV/UTV use in the city limits of Rhinelander," Sackett said in an email to the River News. "It was added to a board agenda, discussion was had and the opinion to issue a statement of support was decided."
The possibility of ATV/UTV use on Rhinelander streets was first introduced by city administrator Dan Guild at the April 8 City Council meeting when he announced that he had written a draft ordinance to that affect. Also unveiled at that meeting was a draft ordinance that would limit where registered sex offenders could live or even visit within the city limits based on proximity to schools, parks or other locations where they could possibly look for victims.
The proposed ATV/UTV ordinance contains definitions of terms pertaining to the two classes of vehicles. In its final form, it would spell out where these vehicles could operate within the city limits.
"I've written the ordinance in a specific way that if you look at this section here, where it says here that all streets in the city of Rhinelander are open to ATVs and UTVs, except the following, and then it's blank," Guild said at the April 8 meeting. "That is because that is a policy question for the Common Council to decide. Do you want to open up the city citywide? Do you want to create specific routes? This gives you the flexibility and a starting point where you can identify how you want to tackle that."
Guild told the council he studied similar ordinances across the state and spoke to officials in other municipalities seeking to get the best possible product for Rhinelander. He said he paid close attention when some officials told him there are things they wish their ordinances contained and tried to incorporate those things into the draft ordinance.
"(This proposal) contains the best of all of them," Guild said, noting that the ordinance would have to be reviewed by legal counsel and put into the proper form before it could come before the council for approval.
During the meeting, Guild also announced that the city is using the website Polco.us, which requires users to register using their addresses, as an additional way to gather feedback from the public on the two ordinances. The feedback includes not only allowing users to approve or disapprove of the ordinances, but leave comments that can be as detailed as the user wishes.
As of Friday, the website showed that commenting and voting on the first draft of the proposed ordinance was closed. It showed that 94 people had voted on the question and 25 people had left comments. The results showed that 50.9 percent (29 votes) of those who are residents of the city who are registered to vote supported the proposed ordinance while 49.1 percent (28 votes) cast votes in opposition.
Of non-residents, the vote was 59.5 percent (22 votes) in favor of the ordinance and 40.5 percent (15 votes) opposed.
Of the 25 comments left on the website, most cited the proposed $100 registration fee - of which city residents would be eligible for a $95 rebate - requirement for electronic turn signals and the 35 m.p.h. speed limit as their main concerns.
At the April 8 council meeting, Guild said he had hoped to have the ordinance to a point where the formal approval process could begin in mid-May. However, state law requires that all proposed ordinances must appear on the agendas of two council meetings, the second being a public hearing, unless formally waived by a majority vote.
The River News sent Guild an email containing several questions about the ATV issue, including if a second draft of the ordinance has been prepared, if the city has received other letters of support for it and if the approval process would begin at the May 29 council meeting. As of press time, Guild had not responded to the questions.
Jamie Taylor may be reached via email at jamie@rivernews online.com.
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