AVON PARK — When a crowd at the Avon Park Lakes community center was polled Tuesday on whether golf carts should be allowed on the subdivision’s streets, the prevailing opinion became readily apparent.
Only one man, Roland Lee, objected to having Highlands County Commissioners designate the streets as suitable for use by golf carts. His concern was children driving the carts without adult supervision.
But the rest of the nearly 150 residents who attended the meeting, showed their approval.
Peggy Bennett, who has led a crusade to help her stepson who uses a golf cart to go fishing, said she was pleased at the response. She collected 89 signatures on a petition to have the roads designated suitable for golf carts and plans to get more names.
It has been 17 weeks and counting since her stepson, 23-year-old Brandon Bennett, was able to do the one thing that he can do outside of staying inside their home, she said. That is going fishing, which requires him to drive a golf cart to reach Lake Olivia.
Brandon Brandon has suffered from birth from a rare disease called Kniest dysplacia, which is a disorder of the bones. Most people with it are short and have problems with hearing and vision. Because of the condition, Brandon can only walk short distances, cannot get a driver’s license and cannot work outside the home.
Peggy Bennett said last month, a deputy told Brandon Bennett that he had to return home on his golf cart and face getting a citation if he drove it to the lake again to fish.
In response, Mark Schrader, chief deputy of the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office, said at the meeting: “I’m not the bad guy. Whether you agree or disagree with the law, I didn’t write the law.”
After receiving a complaint about golf carts, he said, he felt the sheriff’s office had not been sufficiently enforcing the laws regarding golf carts being driven on streets.
“It had nothing to do with Brandon,” he said.
Schrader said the sheriff’s office must enforce every law. State law bars the use of golf carts on local streets or roads unless the county designates those thoroughfares as suitable for use by golf carts, he said.
“We’re damned if we do; we’re damned if we don’t,” he said. Schrader suggested that “maybe this (the situation regarding golf carts) happened for a reason.”
Highlands County Commissioner Don Elwell said the focus should be on moving forward to get the golf-cart designation in place.
Even if everything is approved, County Engineer Ramon D. Gavarrete told residents that they may be forced to pay for road signs, as has been the case with other communities.
Once he receives a petition, he said, he will look at speed limits within the development, the number of trucks using the roads and other road conditions.
Although golf carts can be used to satisfy the Americans With Disabilities Act, that doesn’t mean the golf carts would be allowed if the conditions made their use unsafe, he said.
One man, who spoke at the meeting, but did not give his name, said he thinks it’s “ridiculous” people are not allowing golf carts on the streets.
Elaine Chapple, a resident, said she hopes something gets done to help Brandon Bennett. But, she said, other people use golf carts, either for fun or to get somewhere.
“They’re taking away all our fun and they wonder they have such a high crime rate,” she said. “It’s another way for the county to control people.”