Council puts brakes on skateboard ban

29 Jun 2016 | 10:50

By Gretchen van Nuys
– The Township Council decided to table and rethink its proposed ordinance regulating skateboards, roller skates and scooters on the township’s streets, sidewalks and other public areas — including Station Park and Ungerman Field — following a public outcry at its council meeting Tuesday night.
About two dozen Sparta residents, ranging from children to grandparents, came to the meeting and many asked the council to reconsider Ordinance 16-12. The proposal sought to prohibit the use of skateboards, roller skates and scooters on the township’s public property, saying they were often “a nuisance and safety hazard for pedestrians.”
Not only was the ordinance intended to protect pedestrians and township property, but also to reduce the township's liability. The following places were proposed as being skateboard/roller skate/scooter free: Town Hall, Ungerman Field Complex, White Lake Park Field Complex, Station Park Field Complex, Dykstra Park Bandshell, the Department of Public Works, Sparta Public Library, and Germany Flats Utility Facility. According to the proposal, parents or guardians of violators under the age of 18 would get a written warning for the first offense; a $10 fine for the second offense; $25 for the third offense; and $50 for the fourth and subsequent offense.
But residents in attendance said the ordinance appeared to be punishing young people for wanting to partake in a healthy outdoor activity.
Sparta resident Michelle Rivielle, a mother of teenage triplet boys, told the council that her sons had urged her to speak at the meeting.
“This ordinance appears to be over-reaching,” she said. “I think it’s a shame that with the taxes we pay in Sparta, that we cannot sustain the now-defunct skate park. We should be encouraging our kids to go outside and play and be active. Let’s not give them another excuse to stay inside.”
Jeff Lenosky, a father and professional mountain-bike rider and advocate, told the council, “We need to give kids a safe place. Whether it’s outlawed or not, kids will be skateboarding.”
Township Manager William Close explained that the skate park in Station Park had been a joint venture between the township and a private organization. After several years of use, the property was not properly maintained, and an injury that occurred resulted in a lawsuit, which led to the closing of that facility.
Mayor Christine Quinn added, “That year, Sparta Township was laying off 79 teachers and also police officers, so investing in a skate park was not the thing to do.”
“As I listen to the people here, I agree with what they’re saying," Police Chief Ernest Reigstad told the council, "The majority of kids are good kids.”
Riegstad said that the majority of complaints about skateboarders were at Underman Field Complex during football games, with some people being hit by skateboarders. “We have people that this activity negatively affects,” he said.
Several people speaking to the council stressed the importance of wearing safety gear, and said that some parts of the ordinance, such as a section prohibiting reckless skateboarding, roller skating or scootering on sidewalks or in traffic, made sense.
Councilman Joshua Hertzberg, who said he used to skateboard in the township as a youth, said, “Why don’t we take a look at this ordinance and rethink it?”
A motion to table the ordinance was approved. Mayor Quinn invited residents to put their concerns about the ordinance in writing to the Township Council. For the forseeable future, skateboards, roller skates and scooters remain acceptable forms of transportation and recreation in most of Sparta's outdoor public places.