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BOCC Willing to Revisit ATV Ordinance

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In response to citizens’ comments at the May 28, 2024, Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) meeting, the County Commission agreed to review an ordinance that prohibits operating All-Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) on all county public roadways.

The BOCC will review the results of a survey conducted by the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO), sent to 13,000 residents in the Royal Highlands area. The deadline to respond to the survey is June 25, 2024. The board will discuss the results and potential changes to the ordinance at the July 9, 2024 meeting.

County Ordinance 2023-05 was passed 4-1 in May 2023. The ordinance repeals Section 3 of Ordinance 2017-33, which amended Hernando County Code Section 20-2, making it legal to operate ATVs “on public unpaved roadways with speed limits under 35 MPH.” The ordinance served as an “opt-out” of a Florida Statute that prohibits the practice at the state level; however, it gave counties the right to allow it.
Commissioner Steve Champion was the opposing vote on the ordinance prohibiting ATVs on public roadways in the county.

During the May 28 meeting, several residents addressed the Commissioners, claiming the new law is affecting their ability to ride their ATVs.

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Keith Hamilton of Royal Highlands asked to explore the possibility of building an ATV park on the west side of the county. The Croom area is enjoyed by ATV riders on the east side, which Hamilton reports takes “a lot of preparation” for residents on the other side to enjoy.

Scott Matthew represents two community groups: ATV Riding Is Not a Crime and No New Taxes Hernando. He said to the board that the 2023 ban had affected approximately 1500 residents in the ATV rider community. Matthew asked hypothetically if the Country’s founders were faced with the issue, “What would they think about regulating an activity that harms no one?”

Marty Wilson received his UTV (Utility Task Vehicle) as a housewarming gift from his mother. “Now you guys are making me a criminal. [Deputies are] up there writing tickets. My neighbor … saw my cart, bought one, [HCSO] gave her a ticket.” He added, “You can’t start taking freedoms away. That is not America.” Wilson suggested a compromise to ensure responsible ridership, such as assigning a registration or insuring these special vehicles.

Shawn Roden, also of Royal Highlands, reported seeing “several kids” recently detained by deputies. “I don’t know what these kids did or if they were ticketed. But they’re kids. What else are these kids supposed to do … at the end of the day, when they can’t ride at all, they’re going to ride no matter what.”

Roden went on to say that the prohibition of ATVs from public roads, including dirt roads, increases the likelihood of riding on private property and restricted areas.

Champion still opposes the ordinance, citing the restriction of freedom and the lack of law enforcement resources to enforce it. “The Constitution guarantees your right to travel, and you should not be infringed on your right to travel. It does not say you need a car … what if you want to travel on an ATV?”

Commissioner Jerry Campbell is in favor of reconsidering the ordinance. “I pride myself on not being so dogmatic that I can’t change my mind … No one wants to put undue regulation on the residents of Hernando County. The last thing I want is additional red tape. But we do have a duty to protect other people’s rights and a duty to protect the assets of Hernando County that the taxpayers pay for, and we do have a duty of public safety.”

Campbell commented that HCSO is sending out a survey to 13,000 residents; however, it was not clear during the meeting if these surveys are specific to ATV owners. According to Commissioner Brian Hawkins, the postcard survey was sent to registered voters west of the Suncoast Parkway (589) and north of Highway 50 / Cortez Boulevard, generally regarded as the Royal Highlands area.

Campbell stated, “I look forward to seeing the data and making the best possible decision based on the facts.”

Commissioner John Allocco first brought the issue before the board when it was adopted in 2023 in response to complaints from constituents who were concerned about property damage. Allocco stated that actions resulting in property damage are already illegal under Florida State law, as is operating an ATV without a valid driver’s license or operating an ATV at night.

Hawkins appreciates the matter coming back to the board, as it opens up discussion for a recreational facility on Hernando’s west side. “We do need more recreation on the west side of the county, especially the northwest side, where a lot of the growth is happening.

Lisa MacNeil
Lisa MacNeil
Lisa MacNeil is a reporter for the Hernando Sun as well as a business technology developer, specializing in website development, content management systems, and data analysis.
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