Ocean View mulls speed-limit changes

Ocean View officials are considering reworking the town’s speed limits after receiving a request from home owners in the Village at Bear Trap Dunes to raise the speed limit in that development from 15 mph to 20 mph.

The request sparked an inquiry into existing town ordinances on subdivision speed by Ocean View Police Chief Ken McLaughlin, who said at the town council’s Nov. 1 meeting that he’d discovered subdivisions newer than 1999 (including Bear Trap) are not covered by a standard 15 mph limit that is routinely posted.

The town’s subdivision speed ordinance notes the 15 mph limit as covering only a designated list of subdivisions, and that list has not been updated since 1999 — meaning all developments that are newer than that are only covered by the state ordinances mandating a 25 mph speed limit in residential areas.

“As it is today, the speed limit in Bear Trap is 25 mph,” the police chief emphasized.

McLaughlin said his officers had already been enforcing speed limits on that basis as a matter of practice and noted that if town officials desired a 15 mph limit to be enforced, they would have to update the town’s ordinance in one of several ways.

The issue sparked an extensive discussion of the best way to update the ordinances and enforce an appropriate speed limit in the town’s subdivisions.

Town Manager Kathy Roth cautioned council members to consider future subdivisions and use such criteria as sidewalks and street width to determine what the appropriate speed limits would be, rather than applying a blanket speed limit for all subdivisions.

Attorney Rob Robinson, substituting for Town Solicitor Dennis Schraeder, confirmed McLaughlin’s reading of the existing ordinances. He recommended the town update them and then make sure to add new subdivisions as they were incorporated, to keep things up to date.

An added complication was noted by Council Member Eric Magill, who said the Bear Trap homeowners association had gone ahead and changed the subdivision’s speed limit signs on their own, from 15 mph to 20 mph.

McLaughlin said the council would also have to mandate that only the town could change speed limit signs — even within subdivisions with a homeowners association — if it was going to be able to appropriately enforce the laws.

Council members initially moved to consider the Bear Trap request on its own merits but decided to clean up the speed ordinances as a whole before making any changes specific to a single community.

Mayor Gary Meredith and Council Member Norman Amendt initially supported the idea of a flat 20 mph speed limit, with the comment by McLaughlin that often 15 mph was tough to maintain, while 25 mph was too fast in some locations. On that basis, he recommended council members revisit all the town’s speed limits and see if they were appropriate.

Robinson suggested the council establish a flat 20 mph speed limit for all town roads, causing Amendt to ask him to clarify whether he meant town roads within subdivisions. But Robinson said he meant all town roads — recommending a default speed limit in all of Ocean View of 20 mph, with exceptions for some of the major thoroughfares, such as Central Avenue (currently 30 mph).

Robinson said the flat 20 mph limit was needed to ensure that some older residential areas that were no longer clearly known as “subdivisions” were covered by the 20 mph limit, while still allowing town officials to make exceptions for higher or lower speeds as deemed appropriate.

Discussion of those exceptions as part of formulating a potential ordinance change focused on West and Woodland avenues at 25 mph, with Oakwood remaining at 20 mph due to pedestrian activity at the town park and Hudson also at 20 mph due to its dead end.

McLaughlin encouraged council members to seek wider input from the public (beyond those attending the Nov. 1 meeting) before deciding what the appropriate speed limits for the roads.

Roth noted that any changes would be the subject of public hearings before they would be enacted but said she was taking initial recommendations from the discussion to use in formulating a draft ordinance.

The town manager confirmed that the draft could be ready in time for council members to consider it at their upcoming November workshop, and McLaughlin said he would also use the intervening time to check into state criteria for deciding appropriate speed limits to give the town additional input on the issue.