Woodstock council took another step on the long road towards implementing rules regulating off-road vehicles on town streets and trails.
At the Tuesday, Aug. 24, regular meeting, councillors approved a draft copy of a proposed pamphlet it hopes will inform the public about issues council must consider before establishing a pilot project to potentially give off-road enthusiasts a path through the town.
Woodstock CAO Ken Anthony said the draft pamphlet reflects information gathered by the ad hoc committee of Woodstock Police Force Chief Gary Forward, Planning and Development Director Andrew Garnett and Tourism Director Tobi Pirie over the past several months.
He said the pamphlet marks the beginning of the public education phase.
Mayor Art Slipp urged council to approve the pamphlet copy at Tuesday’s meeting, acknowledging the process is slow, but council wants to ensure it makes the right decisions.
“We never anticipated it would be this hard to get answers to specific questions,” he said.
Following the meeting, Slipp said that the committee sought answers about legal questions, provincial regulations and governance issues but didn’t always get clear answers.
“We got conflicting information from different government departments,” he said.
Coun. Norm Brown brought up one such unanswered question during the discussion on the pamphlet.
“I still don’t know by what authority we allow ATVs on the street,” he said. “That has not been answered.”
In addition to possible access to some town streets, the pamphlet will outline local trails, including current usage and potential changes.
Deputy Mayor Amy Anderson recommended those trails be clearly named and identified to ensure no confusion on which trails allow motorized traffic.
Anderson also acknowledged some residents are frustrated, but council is seeking a compromise to meet the entire community’s needs.
Coun. Trina Jones supported the draft copy but suggested, in an effort not to mislead the public, changing the wording which notes the town “would” implement policies to “could” implement them.
Coun. Randy Leonard, noting the current problem of ATVs and dirt bikes illegally running downtown streets near his home, stressed he would not support any measure putting “four-wheelers” on town streets.
Coun. Mark Rogers proposed the town hold another public meeting after residents had a chance to read the pamphlet and analyze the proposals under consideration.
Following the meeting, Mayor Slipp confirmed to the River Valley Sun the likelihood of another public session — similar to the one it hosted in May — before council makes a final decision regarding a pilot project.
Council passed a motion giving staff permission to print the pamphlets after making minor changes proposed by council members. Leonard voted against the motion.
The proposed pamphlet begins with an explanation of the issues driving the off-road vehicle (ORV) debate.
“The Town of Woodstock has experienced a rise in public safety complaints related to off-road vehicles in the areas of noise, speed and use of the ‘non-motorized’ portion of the Trans Canada Trail in Woodstock,” the committee recommended for the pamphlet’s opening paragraph. “Similarly, off-road vehicle users and enthusiasts have expressed frustration over the lack of ORV access to Woodstock’s various businesses, services and leisure opportunities.”
The pamphlet outlines 16 questions designed to clarify current regulations and proposed changes, including the current usage of trails in or near the town, who regulates the trails and who is responsible for regulating compliance on town streets.
After 15 questions dealing with regulations, definitions and current laws, the 16th question deals in part with proposed designated streets under consideration for access by off-road vehicles in a pilot project to begin in the spring of 2022.
The pamphlet names the proposed designated streets as Main Street, Connell Street, the lower part of Houlton Street and Deakin Drive.
“The ‘pilot’ proposes temporary access for ORV travel on these streets,” the pamphlet states. “ORVs shall travel in the same direction and follow the same provincial statutes and regulations as other traffic.”
Under stricter regulations, the proposed pilot project would also give ORV riders access to non-designated streets in town.
“They shall stay to the extreme right shoulder of the roadway at a speed not to exceed 20 kn/h. Regular traffic has priority right-of-way on non-designated streets,” the proposed pamphlet text states.
In an earlier pamphlet question, the town stated dirt bikes and golf carts were not considered ORV vehicles and would not have street access under the pilot project.
Town staff did not set a date for the pamphlet’s release, although the mayor and CAO suggested it would be soon.
Jim Dumville, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, River Valley Sun