Gulf Shores curbs golf cart rental business: ‘It’s about life safety’

John “Tater” Harris wanted to rent out his vehicles to visitors during the Hangout Festival and other events, at Gulf Shores RV parks and campgrounds.

After Monday, he considers whether to fight City Hall in a courtroom.

Harris’ company, Gulf Coast Rental Co. LLC of Orange Beach, was denied a business license to rent vehicles by the Gulf Shores City Council. The vote was unanimous.

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“It’s a safety issue for me,” Councilman Gary Sinak said. “I can’t support it at this point without very strict stipulations about them.”

The council’s decision comes as popular vacation regions along the Gulf Coast struggle with the rise of golf carts, which resemble a low-speed vehicle (LSV) and are restricted to the same roads as a cart. golf in Gulf Shores.

Less than two years ago, authorities in northwest Florida grappling with an increase in violations by visitors driving LSVs on bike paths and along busy highways. Children have also been seen driving the vehicles, prompting county leaders to put stickers on the vehicles indicating the requirements needed to operate them.

Said Sinak, “How do you control it? I think that would become a bad problem.

Harris, in a comment to AL.com after the vote, said his biggest problem was that the city was discriminating against visitors.

“The city thinks tourists are not educated enough to drive low-speed vehicles or golf carts,” he said. “They think only residents should be allowed.”

By city ordinance, golf carts and LSVs may not be driven on any public road that is not designated as a “trolley street”. The city limits their use to three subdivisions, none of which are near Beach Boulevard or areas where tourists often flock.

Alabama state law distinguishes between golf carts and LSVs, but cities can regulate where they are allowed, and vehicles are often inspected by local police departments.

A LSV, for example, looks like a golf cart, but is considered “road legal” because it must have a 17-digit Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) on any automobile. Additionally, the LSV must have an original manufacturer’s statement to operate and be equipped with windshields, seat belts, mirrors, headlights, taillights, and directional signals.

Harris said his vehicles are LSVs and are road legal. Gulf Shores authorities have called them “golf carts,” which they are not.

Gulf Shores authorities also said they have seen Harris’ vehicles in areas where vehicles are not permitted. Twice in the past few months, one of the vehicles has been operated by a tenant on West Beach Boulevard — the popular road that skirts beaches and condominiums and is off-limits to golf carts or low-speed vehicles.

They were also spotted being operated on on a sidewalk parallel to Gulf Shores Parkway.

Gulf Shores Deputy Police Chief Dan Netemeyer said Harris’ golf carts were non-compliant, though Harris said he got all his approvals through the Department of Motor Vehicles of State.

“I don’t endanger anyone by not being safe with a golf cart,” Harris said.

He acknowledged that violations had occurred and that his company planned to inform tenants of places where carts are not allowed.

Harris said her business has been operating since 2019 and has 13 carts for rent.

The company is licensed to rent its vehicles in Orange Beach, a more popular location for golf cart rentals than Gulf Shores. Orange Beach has over 1,300 inspected, registered and licensed golf carts, while Gulf Shores has 250 licensed and inspected golf carts in the city. Most of them are limited to the Craft Farms subdivision and adjacent to a golf course.

Orange Beach City Administrator Ken Grimes said the city’s registered carts “maneuver around the city on legal city paths and streets to desired locations.” He said carts are not allowed on streets with speed limits over 25mph.

Orange Beach Mayor Tony Kennon in an interview last week said he didn’t blame Gulf Shores for restricting their use. He said Orange Beach, while allowing more golf carts, has a “very well regulated” program.

Kennon said there “is no place for them” in some of the region’s hottest tourist spots.

“The golf carts we allow are street legal and only street legal at 25 mph or less,” Kennon said. “On Canal Road, Beach Boulevard, it’s illegal.”

Golf carts have found a legion of followers among senior citizens in recent years. In retirement towns across the country, golf carts are becoming increasingly popular due to their easy handling and the preference for using them for errands and short trips rather than taking a car.

Of the 8,347 residents of Orange Beach, 32.2% are 65 and older. The population of Gulf Shores is 23.6% over the age of 65. The county average is 21.5%, which is higher than state and national averages.

Baldwin County has allowed golf carts — as long as their use is authorized by a municipal government — since a local constitutional amendment was approved by voters in 2016.

Gulf Shores City Administrator Steve Griffin said Orange Beach’s streets and multi-use paths allow for increased use of golf carts, adding that “ours is very limited.”

“In practice, it’s difficult for our police to enforce this kind of business, especially with unsuspecting renters and tourists who rent the carts and don’t know the lay of the land,” Griffin said.