SOMERS, N.Y. – Whether they love ATVs or loathe them, most everyone agrees they’re noisy critters. So in Somers last week, it was no surprise that those all-terrain vehicles generated sustained, often passionate sounds in a packed meeting room of the Elephant Hotel.
For more than an hour, elected town officials heard a range of views on both the ATV, or “quad,” as fans affectionately call the four-wheeler, and possible loosening of a key ATV restriction, adopted in 1984. Some two-dozen speakers addressed the board, making clear their support or opposition to the code change. And while the board took no official position at Thursday night’s meeting, its five members later made clear there will be no change in the code.
“The code hasn’t been amended nor will it be, based on the input we got,” Supervisor Rick Morrissey said this week.
The board’s four councilmen also opposed revisions in Chapter 160, which regulates ATV operation.
“The law really doesn’t have to be changed,” Councilman Anthony J. Cierico said, expressing a view that prevailed in separate interviews with his fellow councilmen.
As a utility vehicle, proponents point out, an ATV can make short work of tedious chores like lawn mowing and raking, snow plowing and salt-spreading. But in its sportier configurations, critics contend, young operators—some of them even pre-teen—are known to mount these motorized steeds for high-speed hijinks on homemade racecourses and public roads. Along the way, some residents complain, the ATVs introduce indiscriminate dust, dirt and noise into nearby homes or backyard gatherings.
Looking to mediate the opposing views, perhaps by amending Somers’ ATV regulations, the town board invited residents to talk things over Thursday night. More than three-dozen accepted the invitation, filling the seats and standing along the meeting room’s back wall. Under the current town code regulating ATVs, operators must keep 1,000 feet of real estate between their vehicle and a neighbor’s home. That strict standard effectively outlaws quad running—even on their own land—for all but a handful of Somers property owners, one resident, a lawyer, noted.
“We’re effectively banning ATVs in the town of Somers,” Joseph Vinciguerra of Londonderry Lane told the board. To avoid violating town code every time he plows his driveway, the attorney said, he hoped board members would cut in half the legally required separation between neighbor and vehicle, setting the new distance at 500 feet.
But that’s not likely to happen. Thursday’s discussion had been billed as simply an opportunity to obtain residents’ input. But a post-meeting survey of board members found no enthusiasm for tinkering with the letter of the law. Instead, most of the board said, residents could rely on police discretion to distinguish between lawn-mowing, driveway-plowing operators and nuisance joyriders.
“I think we have to give our police—and I’m comfortable with giving our police—the discretion to manage this,” Cierico said. “And they’re doing a good job.”
Councilman Thomas A. Garrity agreed. “We’ve never had any complaints, or written any tickets, for someone who’s been using an ATV to plow their driveway,” he said. “To the best of my knowledge, we’ve never had complaints about using one to work in the back yard.” No one, he noted, “joyrides a tractor or joyrides a lawn mower.”
On the other hand, he said of an ATV, “We’ve had complaints when people use it to joyride either in the streets or on their own property.”
Councilman William Faulkner said that based on the meeting discussion, “I’m also inclined to not amend the current code. The majority of people do not want a change. And of course, we want the majority to rule.”
Like his fellow board members, Councilman Richard Clinchy sees no need to change the code as it now stands. While saying he’s open to being persuaded otherwise, Clinchy added, “You’d have to convince me that there’s a public good [in scrapping the current restrictions].”
Proponents of a more-relaxed ATV code see both public and personal good coming out of such a change.
For one, a 500-foot separation standard would make far more ATVs code-compliant, said Alycia Forbes. The mother of three lives on 7.5 acres off Route 202 but told the board even that much property did not allow her to meet the 1,000-foot separation standard. “You pretty much have to own 22 acres in order to comply with the law,” Forbes said. Indeed, she calculated, using town assessment figures, less than 4 percent of Somers’ property owners have enough land to run a code-compliant ATV.
Another mother, Amy Leahy, lives on Macaulay Road in South Somers. She said that in addition to providing much-needed help in the maintenance of her two acres of land, the ATVs have had a positive impact on her children, ages 12 and 14. “We’re not doing enough for our young people,” Leahy, a teacher, said. “And these quads have done such a fabulous job with my kids. It has taught them respect, responsibility and safety.”