Council, nursing home clash over golf carts

The Alexandria City Council continues to grapple with golf carts - how to regulate their use, restrict where they can go and enforce violations. Meanwhile, residents of the Bethany Community can't take rides in the nursing home's golf-cart-powere...

The Alexandria City Council continues to grapple with golf carts - how to regulate their use, restrict where they can go and enforce violations.

Meanwhile, residents of the Bethany Community can't take rides in the nursing home's golf-cart-powered wagon that slowly pulls them along neighborhood streets.

That's because the council has, in effect, imposed a moratorium on using golf carts on city streets until a new ordinance is adopted.

At Monday night's city council meeting, a group of about 25 Bethany residents, family members and staff urged the council to lift the moratorium. A few of the residents were in their wheelchairs.

After a fairly lengthy debate, the council didn't make any motions on the proposed changes to the "special use vehicle ordinance" so the moratorium remains in place - much to the dismay of Bethany leaders.


Carol Kvidt, executive director at Bethany, told the council that the home has been using the canopy-covered wagon for at least 18 years without any safety problems.

She said that Bethany residents thoroughly enjoy the outdoor wagon rides. "It's like taking a stroll down the street," she said. "They appreciate the sounds, the smells...the chance to see the gardens and feel the wind on their face."

Council member Sara Carlson asked if Bethany had another vehicle it could use to pull the wagon other than a golf cart. Kvidt said that it does have a pickup but the only legal way it could pull the wagon would be in a parade.

Council member Owen Miller suggested that Bethany residents could use the bus he's seen them riding in and they could roll down the windows to enjoy the outdoors.

Later in the meeting, however, Grady Third, director of support services at Bethany, said that Rainbow Rider owns the bus and that Bethany only has a contract for its services.

Third also responded to the council's concerns regarding the insurance of golf cart drivers. He said that all of Bethany's drivers are required to have their own personal liability insurance.

Third added that state law allows passengers to be hauled in a trailer or sled, as long as it is equipped with a straight-arm bar, which the wagon has.

Third said that the golf cart driver pulling the wagon would still have to obey all state laws, which prohibit the vehicle from traveling on state and federal highways, such as Broadway or Interstate 94.


Third said a golf cart is an ideal way to allow residents to enjoy the outdoors. "It's quiet, slow moving, emits very few fumes and they enjoy it," he said.

Jamie Tikkanen, Bethany's director of social services, invited the council to experience what riding in the wagon feels like. She said it was a way for Bethany's residents to experience the community and to break free from the walls that surround them every day.

Council member Dave Benson said that although Bethany's wagon has had an excellent safety record so far, he had concerns about how safe it really is. He said a golf cart's brakes are designed for two passengers and a couple of golf bags - not a wagon filled with passengers, some of them in wheelchairs. "They're not designed to be pulling vehicles," he said.

Miller was also worried about safety. He said Alexandria has several major highways and lots of summer traffic.

Carlson noted that the city looked into how 10 other similar-sized cities handle golf carts and found out that five cities - Brainerd, Willmar, St. Cloud, Moorhead and Sartell - don't even have a special use vehicle ordinance. Four other cities only allow the carts for handicapped persons or only on routes to and from a golf course.

Council members thanked Bethany for their input and for putting together a good campaign to try to keep the wagon rolling. They said they received several e-mails from Bethany residents.

In the end, the council members said there were still too many unanswered questions to approve the golf cart ordinance revisions.

Among the key points the city's legislative committee recommended:


--Penalties and revocation procedures would have been added to the ordinance. This would allow the city to suspend or revoke any special use vehicle permit at its discretion for any reasonable cause. A violation carries a maximum fine of $1,000 and 90 days in jail.

--Rear view mirrors would have been required.

--ATVs would no longer be included in the definition of special use vehicles.

--Permit decals would have to be displayed in the center front of the vehicle.

--A final designation of the streets where the vehicles will be prohibited would rest with the city council. In the past, this was determined on a case-by-case basis by the police chief.

The ordinance already designates the following 32 areas where special use vehicles are prohibited: Highway 29 (including Broadway); Highway 27 East and West; County Roads 82, 22, 42, 44, 45 and 46 (that are in the city limits); North Nokomis; McKay Avenue; Geneva Road; Birch Avenue; South Broadway; Nokomis Street; Dakota Street; Aga Drive; the frontage road between Dakota Street and Highway 29 South; 5th Avenue West; Fairgrounds Road; Willow/Latoka Drive; Cedar Street between 5th and 10th Avenue; Fillmore Street between 3rd and 10th Avenue; Hawthorne Street between 3rd and 10th Avenue; 6th Avenue between Fillmore Street and McKay Avenue; 10th Avenue between Cedar Street and Nokomis Street; Jefferson Street between 3rd and 30th Avenue; Rosewood Lane; 22nd Avenue; 30th Avenue; 34th Avenue; 50th Avenue; and Interstate 94.

The council is also considering banning the golf carts on the Central Lakes Trail, bicycle paths, walking trails and sidewalks.

Another new requirement the council is considering would require golf cart drivers to apply for a $25 permit, which would be valid until December 31 of the year it's issued.


The existing ordinance regulates when golf carts can be operated - from sunrise to sunset and not during inclement weather that limits visibility to less than 500 feet.

Vehicles must also display a slow-moving vehicle emblem and the driver must have insurance and a valid Minnesota driver's license or a signed certificate from a physician that the applicant is able to safely operate the vehicle.

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