Danville discusses four-wheelers ‘tearing up’ city parks

Published 6:20 am Friday, November 16, 2018

Due to some city parks being damaged from four-wheelers, the city may place new signs explaining how the activity is prohibited. 

Resident Janet Hamner told Danville City Commission Tuesday evening that the problems are in the back of Michael M. Smith Memorial Park, formerly known as Batewood.

“We have an issue …” Hamner said, in reference to people on four-wheelers using the rear portion as a playground. “They’re cutting that park all to hell in the back. Once you get past halfway back … it’s pretty bad.”

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Mayor Mike Perros wanted to take it another way.

“Seeing how that’s kind of vacant ground they’ve already discovered it, we’re not using it for much, can we not designate it for their use?” Perros asked.

Hamner and Jennifer Kirchner, Convention and Visitors Bureau director, both said the area is not actually “vacant.”

Municipal Utility Engineer Earl Coffey said perhaps signs erected to aid police enforcement would be the best answer.

“I’m playing devil’s advocate here …” Perros said. “How’s that a city park back in there? May be city property …”

Coffey said the area is “land and water grant funded from the lagoon to Second Street,” and that “theoretically,” it is considered a park or greenspace. “Where there are tracks is clearly inside what you’d consider a park.”

City Attorney Stephen Dexter said not to mention, the liability issue “is terrible.” He said regardless of distinction or clarification, if someone is “on your property and you know about it, and don’t prohibit illegal activity,” or enforce city code, the city becomes complicit in the case of possible insurance claims.

“And it’s a violation of grant covenance. Putting, now, considerable sums of money in jeopardy if they are in fact on the trails,” Dexter said.

Commissioner Rick Serres said he was happy the issue was brought up, because “Jackson Park also has violators. In talking to Police Chief Tony Gray, they don’t have the staff to sit out there and watch it …”

Gray was not present at Tuesday’s meeting, but on Thursday he said according to KRS 189.515, it is illegal to ride them on city-owned property. Part of the statute says “a person shall not operate an all-terrain vehicle on public property unless the governmental agency responsible for the property has approved” the use.

“So it’s actually a law, not just city code,” Gray said.

Gray said complaints have been coming in for years about the issue, mostly heaviest over summer months.

“We get a lot of calls about them riding up and down the city streets in the summer, quite a few calls. Plus what we’re already dealing with, on top of that,” Gray said.

He said Danville is a call-driven city. “That’s what I tell people. We take calls, and a lot. Most of the time, our officers are not conducting a lot of self-initiated activity. They’re not generating a lot on their own, because we have so many calls coming in.” Gray said calls take longer than other police activity.

“A speeding ticket may take about 20 minutes. But a domestic, where two will respond, may take two hours or longer. It’s an enforcement issue, we have to have the personnel to do this.”

He said the issue with creating an area allowing them to drive ATVs on is the liability. “I don’t think there’s any laws about how old they have to be; they’re meant to be driven on private property. Anyone can buy one and let their kids ride it on their personal property.”

According to the statue, those under 16 years old are legally not allowed to drive them except under direct parental supervision.

Tuesday, Perros said, “Catching them and using law enforcement … I’m not sure that’s a good use of our resources.” He said he didn’t want to use the word “accommodate,” but wondered if there was any way to manage the situation “so those folks have a place to go.”

“Well, I think at first blush, now that the attention has been brought to staff, I think the appropriate course of action is to allow staff to deliberate on the issue, come forward with a proposal, if necessary, or handle it administratively and frankly bring you an update if necessary or when appropriate,” Dexter said.

Hamner said, “I can’t see how it can’t be disruptive to the residents” due to the joy rides mostly happening at night. “I think there could be some spies.”

Thursday, Gray said, “Again, when you’re short-staffed — we divide the city up into three sectors. We have north, central and south. When you’ve only got four people working, one officer per sector … And most calls usually take two units,” he said. Officers normally can’t get to the offenders while they’re still on site.

Tuesday, Kirchner told the commission, “The best way to have that land respected is to increase activity on the trail and have people back there, because trails police themselves.” She said when people are using those resources, “you see the disrespect of property decrease, and property value actually increases. We’re hard at work at building a trailhead right there at McClure Village, so the city commission supporting our trail efforts will also help a lot of your issues with that in a natural way.”

Perros wondered if the commission or staff should not consider reviewing any land areas that could be designated for that purpose.

Serres said the same issues came up in years past with “skateboard folks, who were provided a place to play,” and the same is happening in the creation of a mountain bike park. “I don’t think it’s a bad idea at all. Until that happens, we have to work with signage,” Serres said.