Selectboard approves ordinance governing town

New rules will not be strictly enforced

By Tom Gresham
Observer staff

The Williston Selectboard on Monday passed an ordinance that regulates how residents use bike paths and sidewalks.

The ordinance, which was approved by a 5-0 vote, includes a provision that gives pedestrians the right of way on paths. Other parts of the new ordinance require users to travel at safe speeds and dogs to be leashed. Fines for violations range from $25 to $125.

The dog provision attracted most of a crowd of 14 that attended an April 18 public hearing on the ordinance.

The dog lovers, most of whom are frequent users of the section of the bike path at Williston Community Park, said they did not want to be fined for allowing their dogs to walk off a leash. The dog owners insisted that they could maintain control of their pets without leashes.

The town already has a dog control ordinance that says dogs must be leashed unless they are being used or trained for hunting. The ordinance is not strictly enforced.

Town officials assured the dog walkers that the town would not actively enforce the paths ordinance, either. The town will instead only respond to complaints about violations. Public Works Director Neil Boyden said he has not received a single complaint about bike path behavior in the past eight to 10 years.

Town Manager Rick McGuire compared the bike path ordinance to the town’s noise ordinance. He pointed out that police officers only enforce the noise ordinance in response to complaints and do not patrol for violations.

Selectboard Chairwoman Ginny Lyons said that approach was sensible. She said municipal officials could spend all day enforcing the town’s various ordinances.

Selectboard member Jeff Fehrs missed the public hearing on the bike path ordinance, but reviewed the minutes of the meeting. He said Monday that he had some initial concerns with the ordinance and the board’s statements indicating that the town would not actively enforce the new rules. However, he said a recent incident in town in which an unleashed dog bit a resident changed his mind about the sidewalk and bike path ordinance.

“The incident with the dog made me think that maybe in some cases it’s a good idea to have an ordinance even when we’re not necessarily going to enforce it,” Fehrs said.

Town officials have emphasized that the ordinance was not developed to limit uses of sidewalks and bike paths, including the practice of allowing dogs to run free. The ordinance was instead intended to limit the liability of property owners who grant the town easements that allow paths to cross their property.

Boyden has been meeting with property owners to ask for easements that would allow for construction of bike path extensions. Some property owners have expressed concern about their legal liability, he said. Three property owners who attended the April 18 hearing seemed satisfied with the new ordinance’s protections.