ATV committee would set buffer zones for riders

Panel recommends requiring riders to stay 450 feet from neighboring houses.

By: Melissa Edmond
   Riders of all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) would need to stay 450 feet from neighboring houses under recommendations presented by an advisory committee to Tuesday’s Township Committee meeting.
   Although the seven-member All-Terrain Vehicle (ATV) Advisory Committee did not provide specific details, it provided the Township Committee and about 75 residents at the meeting with the findings of its research since the group was established in May.
   Committeeman Anthony Ferrera said that the Township Committee would look at the group’s findings and look to introduce an ordinance in January.
   "The ATV ordinance is tied to the noise ordinance — we couldn’t revise one without revising the other," said Mike Cascio, a member of the committee.
   "We formulated two ordinances that we reached with consensus. It’s best for both sides," said Mr. Cascio. "It treats noise independent of source whether it’s from a garage band, ATV, or a stereo in a house."
   Mr. Cascio said their sample ordinances — which were not available for review — include a buffer zone that allows ATV enthusiasts the right to ride on private property while respecting the rights of homeowners whose dwelling is within 450 feet of the riding area.
   "We felt if it was beyond 450 feet that in 98 percent of cases there probably will never be a problem with a neighbor," said Mr. Cascio. "If it’s closer than that than they (ATV riders) might have to modify their behavior and spend the money to buy a muffler to put on their vehicle."
   The committee, which has two members for, two members against, and one member neutral to ATV riding, includes Chairman Blair Meiser, Tom Kelly, Michael Cascio, Rick Rizzon and Anthony Risoli. Bob Hollingshead served as Parks Commission liaison and Louise Wilkins was liaison from the Open Space Advisory Committee.
   Mr. Cascio said the committee did an enormous amount of research and met with various officials including Police Chief Robert Gazaway, Lt. Robert Merckler, and Township Attorney Albert Cruz, the township’s insurance adviser, regarding ATV use. They looked at existing ordinances in the state and around the country.
   Anthony Risoli, a neutral member of the ATV committee, said the group put violations in their suggested ordinances for people who are irresponsible about riding ATVs.
   "If you’re not responsible, you pay," he said.
   "We’re not looking to take anyone’s rights away. We did what was best for both sides of the fence," said Mr. Risoli. "Every concern was addressed. I heard nothing new," he said about the numerous residents who spoke at the meeting.
   Amwell Road resident Brad Benson said parents share some of the responsibility for ATV use and that it’s up to them to look after their kids.
   "The responsibility also goes towards neigh bors. It’s not responsible for them to call the police until they take the opportunity to speak to parents," said Mr. Benson.
   Millstone River Road resident Barbara Kelly said she didn’t feel talking to neighbors always works and believed that the township needs an ordinance.
   "I agree ATV (riding) is a very fine hobby. Where I disagree is if your hobby interferes with my quality of life then that’s encroaching on my rights," Ms. Kelly said. "You cannot encroach on someone else’s rights because you have a hobby."
   Clawsen Road resident Linda Romano and many other residents compared the sound of ATVs to the sound of lawn mowers, leaf blowers, car horns and snowblowers.
   "If you’re going to start banning ATVs, you’re going to have to ban everything else that causes the same amount of noise," Ms. Romano said.
   "The lawn mower/ATV analogy has come up several times," said Committeeman Steven Sireci. "Nobody operates their lawn mower everyday or from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. at night. Drawing a direct comparison isn’t valid."
   Ms. Romano also urged the Township Committee to come up with alternatives and somewhere for the ATV users to ride.
   "There are 22 parks, playgrounds, and ball fields in town and not a single park or playground is for ATV use," said Ms. Romano.
   Blackpoint Road resident Jim Gene said that putting a recreational place for ATV riders could be prosperous for the township. He said that ATVs are his family’s hobby and they have had to go to Pennsylvania to ride.
   Mr. Cascio said the committee looked into the possibility of providing a recreation space such as one of the parks in town for ATV use but "we realized it would be a very costly expense for the township and the legal aspects would be difficult to overcome."
   He said that could be a separate issue by a separate committee if that’s what the township wants to do. Dr. Sireci suggested the Belle Mead GSA Depot be used for ATVs if the township and county could buy the property from the federal government.
   Mr. Risoli said that the township would have to have a private entity as the leaseholder in charge of any ATV facility because it would be too much money and liability for the township.
   The township has been seeking a solution to complaints from ATV riders and non-riders since a group of irate residents persuaded the Township Committee on Sept. 14 to postpone enacting an ordinance that would have set strict limits on the use of ATVs on private property in Hillsborough.
   The ordinance proposed at that time would have forced ATV operators to keep at least 200 feet from their neighbor’s property line unless the adjacent property owner gave his or her written consent.