DARLINGTON – The City of Darlington Ordinance Committee met with a full City Council meeting room on Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2018. The Lafayette County ATV Club was represented by Dick “Fuzzy” North, Jim Lange and Greg McGowan. The Ordinance Committee is made up of Chair – John Sonsalla, Steve Pickett and Cindy Corley. City Attorney Bill McDaniel was also present, as well as Police Chief Jason King, Alders and other interested parties.
The purpose of this meeting was for the City of Darlington Ordinance Committee to consider several requests to change the current ordinances regarding what streets ATV’s and UTV’s are allowed to ride on.
The popularity and tourism benefits of UTV’s, commonly referred to as Ranger’s in our area, has changed perceptions of local residents, police department and some city council alders.
North presented a hand out to the council of his groups requests, they are as follows:
Changes to the current ordinances are in bold.
•SAME - City streets will be open to ATV’s and UTV’s only, not snowmobiles, go carts, golf carts, dune buggies, etc.
•CHANGES - City streets will only be open between the hours of 7:00 a.m. and 11:00 p.m. but only on those days the Cheese Country Recreation Trail is open to ATV/UTV users. (City streets will be open between the hours of 7:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. for ATV/UTV users to access the Cheese County Recreation Trail and/or ATV/UTV Road Routes).
•DELETE - City streets are only to be used by local residents for the sole purpose of gaining access to and from their residence and the Cheese Country Recreation Trail and by using the shortest and most direct route possible.
•CHANGES - ATV’s/UTV’s cannot drive upon State Highways 23 or 81 in the city. (ATV’s/UTV’s can drive upon State Highways 23 or 81 as long as the posted speed limit is no more than 35 mph within the city limits).
•SAME - Must be at least 16 years of age and possess a valid driver’s license.
•SAME - Must possess proof of current insurance on the ATV JUTV.
•CHANGES - 10 mph speed limit. (ATV/UTV speed limit will correspond with posted city speed limit, not to exceed 25 mph).
•SAME - Must conform to all noise and equipment requirements as set forth in the Wisconsin Statutes.
•SAME - Must display lighted headlight and taillight.
•CHANGES - Must operate on the outermost five feet of the street, in single file, with the flow of traffic. (Must operate in the driving lane, in single file, with the flow of traffic).
Proposed ATV/UTV Routes through Darlington via State Highways 81 & 23:
Hwy. 81: From Main Street to Hwy 81 East to the furthest entrance to the Fairgrounds (across from Arthur Street); posted speed limit is 25 mph.
Main Street: From the bridge to top of Main Street; posted speed limit is 25 mph.
Hwy. 23: From the bridge south on Galena Street to Old Center Hill Road; posted speed limit is 25 mph. (Note: we are not purposing going south on Hwy. 23 past Old Center Hill Road). Darlington Township approved opening up Old Center Hill Road on January 10, 2018 pending approval from the City Council opening up Hwy. 23 South.
Additional ATV/UTV signage will be provided and implemented by concerned ATV/UTV consumers at no extra cost to the City of Darlington.
North began the discussion by stating the main focus of the ATV Club is to allow residents and tourists access to the Cheese Country Recreation Trail (CCRT) and to ATV/UTV road routes, throughout the city.
Approved road routes enter the city via Gun Club Road, Co. Hwy. F (to the North), West River Street (which turns into Co. Hwy. F to the South) and just approved by Darlington Township - Center Hill Road.
McDaniel, who will rewrite the ordinance, was asked if he had any concerns. McDaniel said, “It’s a matter of what the council wants to do. The state law that was passed doesn’t say you have to open all the highways up. It was mentioned that the main thrust was to give residents south of the bridge access to the trails. What you need to consider is do you want to open up Hwys. 81 west and 23 north and south to the city limits.
King stated, “I have no objection to the proposal. From an enforcement standpoint it would be easier not to have to figure out which streets can do what, it’s just open. The DNR, State Police, County Deputies and Darlington Police will just know that all the streets are open and we won’t have to worry about enforcement.”
Sonsalla asked who would be paying for signage? North stated the ATV Club will be paying for all signage.
Pickett brought up the subject of the streets being open year round for ATV use, currently when the trail is closed the streets in Darlington are closed. North answered, “We’re asking that you change that because the road routes are open year round.”
Corley asked, “You’re deleting the part that restricts the streets to local residence only?” North answered, “It’s access to the trail, to the motel, to other businesses on the hill. It’s going to bring people into town and those people spend money.”
Dale Wiegel said, “Galena Street is a busy street with semi and farm machinery traffic. I don’t like adding more traffic to Galena Street.”
King talked about the new state law that was passed, which he was involved in changing. King said, “The new law allows state highways that are also city streets - be open to ATV traffic and have the same privileges as all the other streets.”
Dave Gough gave his opinion, “I think we’re proposing to change this for the benefit for two to three people. I have the names of six individuals who live south of the river. They said Dave don’t let them make Galena Street an ATV route. It started that we were looking at opening 23 south of the bridge, now we’re looking at opening 81 east, all Main Street – for what purpose? When you get to the top of Main Street where are you going? I see no purpose what-so-ever even considering opening Main Street or Louisa Street.”
Erin Gallagher said, “I get a little concern about allowing ATV’s during the hours of darkness during the winter. Galena Street, if we have a lot of snow you can lose up to two feet because of snow banks.”
Pickett said, “The whole purpose of this originally was for local residents, we’re dropping that for tourism. Otherwise there’s no other reason to drop it.”
Don Osterday said, “Dave (Gough) and I rode motorcycles for a long time. I don’t know how you rationalize that a motorcycle on Galena Street is okay, but an ATV isn’t. I would consider an ATV safer than a motorcycle.” He continued, “In the beginning, I was opposed to having ATV’s on the streets, because of difficulty in enforcement and because it was not fair to residents on Galena Street, not being able to get to the trail. I am in favor of opening up Galena Street, but have reservations about opening up Main Street. I have changed my opinion a lot, there haven’t been many problems and it brings people to our town.”
Steve Pickett said, “We started out getting people access to the trail, now we’re giving people access to everywhere. I have trouble with it being open all the time. We really haven’t had many problems.”
King made a statement, “Everyone has opinions and there are good opinions on both sides. I just look at the numbers. Current numbers are that Main and Alice Streets, the current daily traffic count at that intersection is 7,700 vehicles. Main and Alice has been an ATV route for over 20 years. It’s the busiest intersection in all of Lafayette County (except US Hwy. 151). So I look at that and wonder how many incidents have we had there? If ATV’s are so dangerous, there must be dozens of accidents. There hasn’t been a single one. In over two decades not a single ATV incident at that location.”
King continued, “We opened up the 100 block of Main Street in 2012. So people could get across the bridge. That’s been six years and, again, we haven’t had a single incident.”
Brian Lund stated, “This is about tourism.”
McGowan said, “Regarding the Rangers that have been parked on Main Street. I don’t think it’s any club members or local people. It’s most likely people visiting and not knowing that’s not part of the trail. But those people are in Main Street Businesses shopping or eating.”
Colleen Riechling said, “If you walk into local eateries in the spring or summer on weekends they are filled with people you don’t know. Parking on Main Street should be allowed. I don’t mean to be derogatory but we don’t have a lot going on, on Main Street in the summer and if we can fill the street with Rangers, it’s a great opportunity for those businesses.”
Pickett said, “If tourism is what our concept is, then let’s open it up and let everybody run. It’s either for the residents or for everybody to come to town and go all over and either way I don’t care. But I do care if something happens (accident), then we have a problem. It is about tourism. The big issue was – how are we going to get the people from the trail to the motel, now its how do we get everybody to the trails in the county. If that’s our main point, let’s just say we’re here for tourism and open the town up.
North mentioned the road trail closes at 1:00 a.m. so maybe the city’s hours could be 1:00 a.m. closing to keep it uniform.” Sonsalla asked King if he had concerns regarding a 1:00 a.m. closing. King answered, “Right off hand I can’t think of any problems. When we first were discussing ATV’s in Darlington, we were worried about the noise. It has turned out that noise hasn’t been a problem. The UTV’s are actually quiet. We see more of the Rangers now and far less of the Banshees, we don’t see those any more. Now it’s all just families and couples out riding around on Rangers which are just as quiet as your car.”
King addressed Main Street parkers, “You’re right we haven’t enforced ATV’s parking on Main Street. I’ll be driving down Main Street and I’ll see four Rangers parked in front of the Coffee Cup. I’m like, well, they’re in having lunch. I don’t feel like I want to bother them for that. They’re in town spending money and they don’t realize they’re a half block off the trail. If the police department starts to hassle people for that, how’s that going to adversely affect tourism.”
North mentioned he has 17 families on the south side of the bridge, they would really appreciate opening up Galena Street.
The committee then took point-by-point the route requests that were presented by Lafayette County ATV Club. The committee agreed with all the suggestions. King suggested, “If you go ahead with this, that will open up the entire city except the 700 and 800 blocks of Washington Street (to give those residents access) to Lucy Street and I suggest you open those up too. The committee agreed to add those two block as well.
Which means all streets in Darlington could be open to ATV/UTV traffic, except for Hwy. 23 S. from Old Center Hill Road to the south, dependent on full council approval.
Discussion to hammer out the time was held next. The committee approved to have the street routes open from 5:00 a.m. to 1:00 a.m. - year round.
The committee approved a uniform ATV/UTV speed limit 25 m.p.h.
Sonsalla said, “I’ve evolved my opinion tonight. I thought we were doing a minor thing, but this is a major change. I hope we hear from Darlington citizens on this.”
King’s final word, “The council is proceeding on this, if we find that there are safety issues or if it is abused, the council can take it away.”
McDaniel will produce a revamped ordinance and have it at the full city council Feb. 20 meeting. It was made clear that these ordinance changes won’t be voted on and will be “discussion only” at this meeting.