Gated communities put brakes on scooter use

August 13, 2008 

Rachel Goulet, a 20-year-old college student, usually shares a car with her sister when she's home for the summer. This year, with gasoline prices rising, Goulet downsized and invested in a scooter.

But even before she bought it last month, the college senior knew she wouldn't be able to ride her new 100-mile-per-gallon two-wheeler from her family's Marshland Road home to her internship in Sea Pines Plantation.

The problem is that driving mopeds, scooters and motorcycles is forbidden in Sea Pines, as it is in many other area plantations. That makes it challenging for some people, who have found those forms of transportation good options when it comes to the saving money on gas.

Goulet tried to find a way around the Sea Pines scooter restriction. She parked it at the Sea Pines Welcome Center, walked a quarter mile to the trolley stop and rode the bus to finish off her hour-long commute. But that routine became so tiresome that she started driving a car again.

William Blain, 71, of Hilton Head Plantation, started driving his moped around his neighborhood in 2004. Hilton Head Plantation allows small mopeds that travel no more than 30 mph.

Before the retired electrician and police officer had open heart surgery earlier this year, he upgraded to a scooter with a larger engine that allows him to travel on the main roads outside the gates of Hilton Head Plantation.

Now he can't drive his new ride from his home to the gates because neighborhood covenants prohibiting larger scooters and motorcycles.

Blain plans to rent a storage unit on Dillon Road for $60 a month where he can pick up his scooter to drive on roads outside the gates.

Hilton Head Plantation is considering revising its covenants to allow for a wider variety of scooters.

Peter Kristian, general manager of the plantation, said the Security Committee of the property owners' association was recently asked to look into the issue.

The association's board of directors could discuss the committee's findings in the coming months, he said.

"I'm sympathetic because they (the scooters) do get very good gas mileage," Kristian said.

Blain said, "We've amended the Constitution of the United States a few times," he said, "but we can't amend the stupid covenants."

Still, making any changes there would likely be an uphill battle.

A survey conducted three years ago found about 97 percent of responders opposed changing rules to allow motorcycles in plantation, Kristian said.

The main concern: noise pollution.

Mopeds, which are permitted, are easy to distinguish from scooters and motorcycles partly because they don't require license plates, Kristian said. Scooters and noisier motorcycles of varying sizes, however, are all classified in one group under state law, he said, making any covenant changes difficult to write.

"The issue is drawing the distinction (between scooters and motorcycles)," Kristian said.

Pete Vanderberry, an employee at the Savannah store where 20-year-old Goulet bought her scooter, said scooters are generally quieter than motorcycles and even cars.

Most scooters are designed with environmentally-friendly, low-emissions mufflers. Those smaller mufflers don't make much noise, he said.

But safety, not noise, is the main factor in restrictions in Sea Pines, where dark roads are frequented by tourists who aren't familiar with them, security director George Breed said Tuesday.

The community association has neither discussed changing its convenants nor has it planned a such a discussion, said board president Pat Jinkins.

Breed said the restrictions have "been in place for decades."

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