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Georgetown mulls golf carts on street

GEORGETOWN — Maddy McCord, 7, leaps into a seat on the back of a golf cart driven by her mother, Jenny, and pulls her tiny fingers into the sleeves of her pink jacket. The cart rolls over grassy hills near their home in Oxford Manor subdivision as the bitter cold wind whips through her hair.

"She loves it," her mother says.

Jenny McCord and her husband, George, who runs a business that upgrades golf carts, can list reasons folks in Georgetown might want to own a golf cart if an ordinance to permit the carts on some city streets passes after a second reading before the council on Monday.

It's convenient to hop on a golf cart in the spring or summer and pick up a loaf of bread at the grocery store, supporters say. Golf carts require less room for parking. Golf carts burn less gas than many cars and trucks. Electric golf carts can run for hours before recharging.

And they're fun, say the McCords and Richard Ray of Georgetown, who brought the issue to the city council in January.

Ray, who jokes that his wife won't allow him to have a motorcycle, has used a golf cart at the Kentucky Horse Park campgrounds for about five years. But he's never been able to take the cart to the nearby Kroger or to his doctor's office.

"It would be convenient for a lot of people who just want to jump on and run to the grocery store," Ray said.

Georgetown is just one of at least a few Central Kentucky communities that have recently discussed ordinances to permit golf carts on public roads. Winchester passed an ordinance in September. And Franklin Fiscal Court discussed a possible golf cart ordinance in January, but the issue was dropped.

High gas prices and a state bill passed last year help the golf cart cause.

The state gave local governments permission to authorize and regulate the operation of golf carts on public roadways under their jurisdiction. The carts can be operated only on roads with a speed limit of 35 miles per hour or less and within 5 miles of a golf course.

The bill also requires permits and inspections. And golf cart drivers must have a valid driver's license.

In Winchester, and in the proposed Georgetown ordinance, the carts can be operated only from sunrise to sunset.

"I keep waiting to see one," Winchester City Attorney William Dykeman said. "I'd be surprised if I don't see several come spring."

Dykeman said Winchester city officials hope the golf cart ordinance will help revitalize downtown, where parking is limited. He said most of the community supported the idea, and he couldn't recall any negative feedback.

Jenny McCord said it would make traveling to a neighborhood yard sale much easier.

Ray said his 2-year-old great-granddaughter loves trips in the cart.

George McCord, who customizes carts with his friend Alan Haycraft of Georgetown, said he knows a man who uses a golf cart for hunting.

"Golf carts aren't just for golf courses anymore," George McCord said.

Winchester adopted a tougher ordinance than the state requires. The carts in Winchester are required to have a bicycle safety flag, rearview mirrors, brake lights, headlights, turn signals, brakes and seat belts.

McCord's business, Blackstar, upgrades carts for a few hundred dollars.

But the Georgetown ordinance, which was read for the first time Feb. 9, requires only a safety flag. During council discussions, police Chief Greg Reeves said the carts should be as visible as possible on the roads.

The Georgetown City Council has received little opposition to the ordinance. At least one golfer was concerned that he would be required to pay to equip his carts with lights and other features.

But supporters argued that it would currently be illegal for him to drive on a public road anyway, even if the law isn't strictly enforced, and this ordinance could change that.

"I think what the ordinance is really doing is getting us into compliance," council member Don Hawkins said.

It could also make Kentucky communities look more like towns in states such as Florida, where golf carts are commonplace, especially in retirement communities.

"I think it'll catch on real quick," Ray said.