The wheels may be in motion after all for a business looking to offer an unusual type of transportation through downtown Leesburg.
Last month, Cartwheels’ business launch was stalled when the town staff informed its owner, Asa Rusk, that he would first need to pursue a Zoning Ordinance amendment before his golf cart transportation service begin in town. Road-ready golf carts, as it turns out, are not permitted on town streets, under Leesburg’s current zoning rules.
At a work session Monday, the Town Council discussed whether to change those rules. Town Attorney Barbara Notar explained the difference between golf carts and low-speed vehicles, as defined by the state code. Low-speed vehicles are regulated by the Department of Motor Vehicles and allowed on town streets without an ordinance change. They can be operated on town streets with a speed limit of up to 35 miles-per-hour, while golf carts—defined in the state code as self-propelled vehicles—cannot operate on streets with a speed limit greater than 25 mph. Golf carts are currently prohibited on public roads.
To make a change to the zoning ordinance to allow them, and to potentially greenlight the start of the Cartwheels business, “you must make a finding that [golf carts] will not impede the safe and efficient flow of motor vehicle traffic,” Notar told the council.
The town staff has recommended against such a change, citing the high traffic volumes of motorists coming into and out of the downtown area. The Cartwheels operation wants to provide rides from both the Pennington and Liberty Street parking lots to eating and drinking establishments in the downtown, according to Renee LaFollette, director of the Capital Projects and Public Works Department. Any change to the Zoning Ordinance would require that the streets where golf carts would be allowed to travel be explicitly listed.
While a majority of the council voiced support for initiating an ordinance change Tuesday night, after this paper’s deadline, some, including Vice Mayor Suzanne Fox, urged more public and business outreach and input on the subject. Fox said that the Cartwheels service could be a part of the solution for the parking problem that plagues downtown, by offering downtown visitors an opportunity to park a bit outside the more highly-trafficked areas of the downtown but with safe pick-ups and drop-offs.
Mayor Kelly Burk agreed, and pointed to other cities and towns throughout the nation which already have similar successful business models in place.
“I think this would be a lost opportunity if we decide this is something we didn’t want to do,” she said.
Councilman Tom Dunn, however, said he was not supportive of the idea.
“There’s an issue of being business friendly and an issue of being friendly to businesses that are friendly to us,” he said, explaining that allowing golf cart operations on downtown streets could exacerbate an already big problem downtown—traffic congestion.
Even if the council supports the ordinance initiation tonight, it would be far from a done deal. Public hearings before both the Planning Commission and Town Council would need to be scheduled, with the matter coming back to the council for a final vote.