April 12, 2016

MEMO TO:           Mayor Barber and Board of Commissioners

FROM:                  Frank A. Rush, Jr., Town Manager

SUBJECT:           Ordinance Amending Chapter 4 – Use Regulations – of the Unified Development Ordinance Regarding Golf Cart Sales and Rentals  

The Board of Commissioners is scheduled to formally consider an amendment to the Town’s Unified Development Ordinance that would allow golf cart sales and rentals as a permitted use in the Town’s commercial and mixed use districts, subject to certain additional restrictions.  A public hearing is required prior to Board consideration of the attached ordinance amendment, and has been scheduled for the April 12 meeting.  The Board and the public should note that the attached ordinance amendment pertains only to the Town’s zoning requirements, and not the actual standards for the operation of golf carts in Emerald Isle.  The Town’s local golf cart program is codified in Chapter 11, Transportation, of the Code of Ordinances, and the attached ordinance amendment pertains to the Unified Development Ordinance only.  

The Town’s local golf cart program, which allows golf carts that meet certain standards to operate on most Town streets (not permitted on NC 58 or Coast Guard Road, by State law and Town ordinance), was created in 2010, and was among the first such programs in North Carolina at that time.  The program has been very well received, and there are now more than 500 registered golf carts in the Town’s program.  When the program was created in 2010, there was some uncertainty about the program, and the Board of Commissioners was primarily concerned with providing an alternative, convenient transportation option and ensuring the safety of those operating golf carts and the general public.  At that time, the Board of Commissioners was concerned that the opportunity for short-term golf cart rentals in Emerald Isle would create public safety concerns, and specifically noted that golf cart rentals were not permitted in Emerald Isle.  The Board’s concern at that time was that the ability to rent a golf cart by the hour, half-day, or other short time period was more likely to result in irresponsible golf cart usage. 

The Town has, however, allowed golf cart sales and rental businesses located outside of Emerald Isle to register a certain number of rental golf carts annually in the Town’s program, and these businesses have routinely delivered the rental golf carts (rented for multiple days or a full week) to locations in Emerald Isle in recent years.  Initially, the Town allowed a total of 7 rental golf carts to be registered to each company, and later administratively increased that cap to 15 rental golf carts and then 25 rental golf carts.  The two businesses that registered the rental golf carts actually worked closely with the Town to write the Town’s golf cart ordinance, and have been diligent in adhering to and enforcing the Town’s regulations on their customers.  As a result, there have been very few negative issues associated with golf cart rentals by these businesses. 

One of the existing golf cart businesses was recently purchased, and the Town was recently approached by the new owner about opening an Emerald Isle location.  Thus, the attached ordinance amendment is presented for Board of Commissioners consideration at the April 12 meeting.  Town staff believe it is now appropriate to allow golf cart sales and rental businesses to operate in the Business, Village East, Village West, and Marina Village zoning districts, and the attached ordinance amendment lists golf cart sales and rentals as a permitted use in those districts.  The Board should note 4 additional restrictions indicated in the ordinance and the attached memo from Josh Edmondson, Town Planner.  The most significant restriction is the outdoor display of a maximum of 5 golf carts, in order to prevent the appearance of a large sales lot.  The Planning Board reviewed the attached ordinance amendment at its March meeting, and unanimously recommends approval.

As noted in Josh Edmondson’s memo, the Planning Board specifically recommended that the Town should not establish a minimum rental period for golf cart rentals. In accordance with the Board of Commissioners’ initial concerns (in 2010) about the potential for irresponsible golf cart usage by short-term renters, Town staff initially recommended a minimum 2-day golf cart rental period after discussing the issue with local golf cart businesses.  The Planning Board discussed this issue, and specifically indicated that they did not believe the Town should regulate the minimum rental period.  Town staff, including the Police Department, still have some concern, however, that the lack of such a restriction may promote irresponsible golf cart usage.  If the Board of Commissioners disagrees with the Planning Board, and would like to establish a minimum rental period, this additional restriction can be easily added by the Board of Commissioners during the April 12 meeting.  The Planning Board also indicated that the Town should not establish a maximum number of golf carts eligible for rental.  Town staff initially recommended a maximum of 50 rental golf carts, however, Town staff have no concerns with the removal of this cap.       

We look forward to discussing this issue with the Board at the April 12 meeting.