McKeesport ponders ATV ban
By Jennifer R. Vertullo
Published: Monday, Jan. 28, 2013, 4:26 a.m.
McKeesport is considering banning motorized recreational vehicles in response to city residents who want dirt bike and ATV riding in their neighborhood to stop.
During its February meetings, city council will discuss and vote on an ordinance drafted by resident Beatrice Longo that would prohibit the use of recreational motor vehicles within city limits. Longo presented a second ordinance that would have put moderate restrictions on operating such vehicles.
“We feel that it's urgent that you do consider this,” Longo told council this month. “We need an ordinance that not only addresses banning or restricting these vehicles, but also puts in some pretty serious consequences for not abiding by that ordinance.”
She suggested a “strong” ordinance that imposes fines and threatens the confiscation of vehicles.
Longo's concerns became public in September when residents Jimmy and Marcie Young purchased 5 acres of land across the street from their Arnold Drive home. That drew attention from neighbors who opposed their idea to have a trail-riding area for their eldest son and his friends.
A handful of Haler Heights residents, including Longo, began speaking out about the long-term disruption of dirt bikes and ATVs on the nearby “Fawcett meadow” property behind Wainwright drive, about which a formal complaint never had been filed.
After hearing about those concerns for several months, council president Darryl Segina met with police Chief Bryan J. Washowich and solicitor J. Jason Elash to discuss Longo's proposed ordinances and the state motor vehicle code, which prohibits the operation of unregistered vehicles on all roadways unless crossing them directly.
“We went over the ordinances she presented and contrasted them with the current state law, and analyzed potential changes,” Elash said. “The president of council decided to put the ordinance banning all ATV use on the agenda, as is.”
If the ban or similar ordinance was not added to council's agenda, Segina said, it would take only a few signatures and a court order for displeased residents to get it there.
Putting it on the February agenda makes it open for public hearing on Feb. 5 at 6:30 and for council's vote on Feb. 6 at 7 p.m.
“It's been a hot issue in town,” Segina said. “People are displeased with what's happening up there, and I think that's the big issue. Anyone who has something to say, pro or con, is welcome to come down and do that.”
Segina said he doesn't want to hurt anybody, but he wants people to know that at least some neighborhood residents “can't tolerate what's happening up there.”
Before the ordinance was suggested, Young said he was under the impression that he and the Haler Heights residents who opposed his plans would come to a compromise that is “better” than McKeesport's current noise ordinance.
While the ordinance prevents disruptive activity such as yard work or excessive noise between the hours of 9 p.m. and 9 a.m., Young said he is willing to promise neighbors to wait until 11 a.m. and have his children home by 8 p.m.
“I would even tell the kids they can't ride during dinner time, if that's what the neighborhood wants,” he said.
But the compromise that residents wanted to discuss in September seems off the table now, since they attended January's council meeting to learn the status of their suggested ban.
Longo approached council regarding the status of two draft ordinances that she submitted late in 2012 when Young's purchase drew attention to problems with ATV and dirt bike activity in Haler Heights, Christy Park and Grandview.
“We do not live in a rural area,” Longo said. “We live in a city, and these are residential areas.”
Wainwright Drive resident Marti Gastel brought her concerns about another popular riding spot to council in January.
“Haler Heights is a wonderful place to live. Where we live, there is a beautiful deck overlooking a beautiful bowl of trees,” Gastel said. “Now, in the center of that beautiful bowl of trees that my deck overlooks, we have a huge dirt bike scar – a big, muddy, runny brown sewer of water that in the summer is so noisy you can barely think.
Gastel said she is concerned with aesthetics as well as humming engines that can reach 90 decibels. She said the noise is amplified by the bowl-affect of the terrain, like in an amphitheater.
“The people that are using that dirt bike trail have no accountability to the city, as far as I know,” Gastel said. “We don't know who's using it. We don't know who's accountable. We don't know what hours they'll be using it.”
Because his neighbors believe current ordinances are not or will not be enforced, Young said he may be prevented from using his private property as he intended.
Young maintains that he should not be told what type of recreational environment he can provide for his children on private property and that a disagreement among neighbors should not escalate to a citywide regulation.
“I can't sign for the rest of McKeesport, for the kids in Christy Park or Grandview,” Young said. “I can control my kids and my property, but I can't control vacant lands across town.”
Longo said December's warm weather brought a preview of what she expects to hear and see in the spring. Longo said she has seen unregistered vehicles riding the streets of Haler Heights.
“The issue of enforcement of taking unregistered motor vehicles off city roadways has come up a few times,” Mayor Michael Cherepko said. “Each and every time, I ask individuals if they called the police, and no one has. We will be fair and consistent across the board. I fully expect our officers to respond to the call and enforce the ordinance or state law, whichever is applicable.”
Cherepko said there always is the chance of a verbal warning the first time something is reported, but the city can keep a log of warnings that are issued so that all officers recognize habitual offenders.
Jennifer R. Vertullo is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She may be reached at 412-664-9161 ext. 1956 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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