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Support for skateboarders strong at hearing

by CJ Carnacchio

April 18, 2012

Skateboarding proponents turned out in full force at last week's Oxford Village Council meeting to voice their support for an ordinance amendment that would specifically allow this form of non-motorized transportation.

"I think it's a great way for people to get around whether you're young and don't have a (driver's) license or if you're trying to conserve gas," said Oxford resident Christine Ellis.

Officials listened as folks ranging from skateboard enthusiasts and their parents to local business owners discussed the issue as part of a public hearing.

"To me, skateboarding isn't just a way to get (from) Point A to Point B," said Oxford resident Jeff Ellis. "To me, it's a way to get my emotions out. If I'm having a bad day, I skateboard . . . If you guys won't let me do it, then what do you want me to do?"

The village is considering amending its current ordinance regulating "skateboards, scooters, mopeds, extreme rollerblading and extreme biking" to allow skateboards when "solely used for transport purposes."

"I just started skateboarding two weeks ago and I've used that a lot for transportation," said Oxford resident Garrett Popa. "I even keep it in my car, so instead of driving everywhere, I can just skate there."

The ordinance change was requested by Chris Werth, owner of Dubz Bikes & Boards, a downtown business that sells skateboards. Unfortunately, Werth could not attend the hearing as he was out of the country.

Madonna Van Fossen, director of the Downtown Development Authority, read e-mails from business owners who supported the idea of permitting skateboarding as a mode of transportation. They included Patrick Hingst, owner of 'Wiches; Jim Carlisle, owner of CamLogic: Mark Young, owner of Mark A. Young Jewelers; and Ted Dickens, owner of OC Photoworx.

Jim Bielak, who co-owns Beadifferent, expressed his concern to council about skateboarders possibly injuring themselves and others around them.

"They never wear any protective equipment, so there's a liability issue," he said.

Bielak noted how skateboarders often use the concrete step behind his store as a place to do tricks.

"This becomes a great jump for them," he said. "The problem is it's a blind corner. The chances of hitting somebody would be very remote, but if it happened to be somebody with a baby carriage, there's another liability problem."

Bielak told council he favors limiting the footprint of where skateboarding can occur; requiring personal protection equipment ("at least a helmet") and maybe requiring skateboarders in public spaces to be at least 12 years old.

The downtown merchant also suggested having a skatepark or some other type of facility for skateboarders.

"I think we do need somewhere for this to happen," he said. "I think they definitely need somewhere to be able to ride that's practical and fun."

Aaron Wiley, of Oxford, advocated for allowing skateboarding a way to get to the downtown, but then prohibiting it in certain areas within the central shopping district.

He noted how other communities, such as Rochester, Holly, Milford and Royal Oak, "all have designated areas" where skateboarding is prohibited, "but they do allow them to use their skateboards as transportation to get to the downtown area."

Given he doesn't have a driver's license, Metamora resident Joseph Perry explained to council how he gets dropped off on the outskirts of the village, then uses his skateboard to get to his job and around the downtown area.

"For skateboarding to be allowed as a mode of transportation would be very helpful for me because I do not live in the area," he said.

To satisfy officials and business owners' concerns about skateboarders doing tricks and stunts, Perry suggested having ordinance language requiring all four wheels to remain on the ground when riding.

"If anyone is doing tricks, maybe something should be done or said, but (skateboarding) just for transportation, it would be great to have and a good thing for the community," he said.

Perry's mother, Joanna Perry, echoed her son's words. Unlike a bicycle, she said a skateboard is "very easy to carry," thus making it a "very practical" mode of transportation. Joanna noted that she, too, is concerned about safety issues, so she would like to see language requiring helmets and other safety gear.

One Oxford resident told council he's a "perfect example" of someone who intends to use his skateboard strictly for transportation purposes. He plans to ride it back and forth between his home on Pontiac St. and his job at a business on M-24.

"My days of doing tricks or anything like that are a little bit past me now," he said. "I don't really intend to use my skateboard in that fashion."

Given gasoline prices have the potential to reach $5-per-gallon this summer and many communities are implementing green initiatives, this resident said encouraging skateboarding as transportation "just seems like a natural fit."

"I don't really see why any sort of restriction would be put on that," he said. "I do understand the inherent risks and dangers (associated with skateboarding tricks), and I completely understand the business perspective there as far as liability and the safety of the community."

However, "I think that there is some common ground that can be reached as far as allowing people to get to (the) downtown."

For instance, he agreed with the idea of requiring all four wheels to remain on the ground at all times.

common ground that can be reached as far as allowing people to get to downtown"

For instance, (Hinberg) agreed with the idea of requiring all four wheels to remain on the ground at all times.