Home News Local News City Council derails plan allowing for off-highway vehicles

City Council derails plan allowing for off-highway vehicles

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Lisa Dunlap Photo "We already have motorcycles on city streets. These are far safer, far more sturdily built," says Herb Atkinson about the Utility Truck Vehicles that a proposed ordinance would have allowed on paved city streets. Atkinson spoke during a public hearing at the Thursday City Council meeting. The City Council voted 5-3 for the ordinance, but six votes in favor were needed to change city ordinances.

One decision by the Roswell City Council left a group of Roswell residents upset, while another vote is expected to help the city get funds to repair a building used by a local youth organization.

A proposed ordinance that would have allowed large off-highway vehicles to be driven on paved city streets did not receive enough votes to pass. Similar ordinances have been adopted in 15 New Mexico counties and cities since 2016 when the state Legislature permitted local governments to develop laws to allow the use of such vehicles in their jurisdictions.

Council members also approved a lease with the Boys and Girls Club of Sierra Blanca for a city building on South Garden Avenue, an agreement that city staff said will help the city receive $150,000 in state funding for repairs to the building.

The public hearing about the ordinance change followed a year-long effort by Roswell resident Randy Robertson.

He has worked with area law enforcement, city staff and the city attorney to draft a proposal allowing larger, off-highway vehicles to be allowed on most paved city roads. Even with the ordinance, they would not have been allowed on roads that are state highways or truck routes.

The ordinance also called for many requirements for the vehicles, including insurance, the ability to travel at least 35 miles an hour and certain necessary equipment such as mirrors, steering wheels and speed odometers.

About 25 people supporting the ordinance attended the meeting, with Herb Atkinson and Robertson speaking for the ordinance.

“I want to make it clear … that these are for UTV (utility truck) vehicles, not for four-wheelers or not for three-wheelers,” Atkinson said. “We already have motorcycles on city streets. These vehicles are far safer, far more sturdily built. I guess the best thing you (can) compare it to would be the old Army Jeeps that were so popular in the ’50s and ’60s.”

Robertson, who has been an off-road enthusiast with his family for years and described doing a lot of research about the proposed ordinance since 2016, said that allowing UTVs on paved roads was supported by many types of people and would help Roswell progress.

“This is a wide range,” said Robertson. “This is not just a bunch of kids wanting this stuff. My mom is into this, Mr. Herb Atkinson, and there is variety of age ranges.”

He also said that he would post a video to educate the public about the ordinance and safety.

“I want this to be a great thing for people. I want people to be educated,” he said. “Someone said a while ago that they wanted to see something different for Roswell. This is … different for Roswell. This will bring a lot of stuff in.”

Five councilors voted for the ordinance, but three voted against it, Steve Henderson, Savino Sanchez and Juan Oropesa. At least six councilors needed to vote in favor of the measure to change a city ordinance, according to City Clerk Sharon Coll.

Henderson criticized the ordinance as being written in a confusing manner because it included definitions of vehicles that would not be authorized on city streets. He and Sanchez also expressed concern for people’s safety.

“I object because, in reading the statistics on the safety of these vehicles along with the other vehicles that are mentioned, the safety is not good,” Henderson said. “People on Roswell streets are not going to recognize those vehicles. Our police department has enough problems with vehicle traffic the way it is.”

Sanchez added that he did not want to be responsible for any harm coming to people using the vehicles.

Speaking in favor of the ordinance was Councilor Caleb Grant.

“This in my mind personally is one of those topics that Roswell tries to overthink, and we will be sitting here 20 years from now saying, why didn’t we do that, why didn’t Roswell do that,” he said. “This has been done all over the country for many, many years. There are communities that have golf carts and have these type of vehicles as well.”

After the meeting, Robertson and other ordinance proponents said they would have to consider what might come next regarding their efforts. They also said that they thought the opposing city councilors voted based on their personal opinions and not facts and that their comments about the confusing nature of the ordinance misrepresented the situation.

Robertson added he thought all city councilors should have been present to vote. Jason Perry and Barry Foster were absent.

“These council members not showing up to vote, that’s my biggest deal. There are way too many meetings where the council members aren’t showing up to vote. … How is it fair if not everybody is here to vote on it? What is their job?”

In another action item, the City Council voted unanimously to approve a new four-year lease beginning Dec. 1 with the Boys and Girls Club on a city building at 201 S. Garden Avenue. The group has leased the building for youth activities for many years.

The Roswell and Ruidoso chapters of the organization recently merged to create the Boys and Girls Club of Sierra Blanca. That is the agency that now will lease the building for $1,000 a month.

“The lease structure that we have was based on the current agreement that the club has with Ruidoso facility,” said Director of Administrative Services Elizabeth Gilbert. “It also assists with some of the barriers we have in getting capital outlay funding.”

The city has already been approved for $150,000 in state funding to repair the roof, doors and other problems with the structure. According to city staff, the state will not release any funds until a rent assessment is completed and a rent agreement is in place.

The new chief executive officer of the club, Tim Coughlin, said after the meeting that he was happy with the vote.

“It’s a great thing,” he said. “The main thing is that it helps the city to obtain those funds.”

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7110, ext. 310, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.