The Fairhope City Council adopted an ordinance to regulate the use of a street-legal golf cart on the municipal pier in order to allow employees from Shux restaurant to shuttle disabled people to and from the establishment, which is located a few hundred feet down the pier.
The ordinance passed by a 4-1 vote, with Councilwoman Diana Brewer the lone dissension.
Rick Gambino, also the owner of Gambino’s restaurant on Laurel Avenue, controls the city’s lease for its municipal pier and associated restaurants, having taken ownership after purchasing the former Yardarm restaurant lessee Bob Pope.
Since taking ownership of the lease, Gambino has used a street-legal golf cart to shuttle people from the pier parking lot to the restaurant. Gambino contends he pays an employee $12 per hour to shuttle the elderly and disabled to and from the restaurant.
The new ordinance allows for the marina and restaurant lessee to operate a motorized vehicle for the purpose of transporting the disabled and their parties. The ordinance uses the definition of disabled as described by the federal Americans With Disabilities Act, which describes a disabled person as someone with “physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a person who has a history or record of such an impairment, or a person who is perceived by others as having such an impairment.”
The ordinance stipulates the vehicle can drive no faster than 5 miles per hour, must not park on the pier and must not be driven beyond the entrance to the marina, which is just a few feet past the restaurant.
Breaking the ordinance will subject the leaseholder or vehicle operator to a $250 fine and a possible suspension of the right to use the vehicle on the pier. A second offense could mean a $500 fine and suspension, and a third offense will bring a one-year suspension.
Before signaling her opposition to the ordinance, Brewer read a letter from a 70-year-old Fairhope resident who said she no longer walks on the pier because she’s afraid of being hit by the Shux shuttle. Brewer said the pier is almost like “sacred ground” for some and is one of the last places in the city where people can walk without worrying about dodging vehicles, bikes and pets.
“The presence of the shuttle on the pier really invades the space and the sanctity there,” Brewer said. “It is the only place left where people can walk and it is sacred ground to some. I’m very much opposed to having something like this on the pier. I think we are opening a can of worms and I’d like to see us preserve the pier for our citizens.”
Councilman Mike Ford said the city had to comply with ADA regulations at the pier and this ordinance is one way to do that. Councilman Kevin Boone and Council President Jack Burrell both said they believe the shuttle is an asset to the city providing a service so disabled people can access the pier restaurant just like any other restaurants in the city.
Councilman Rich Mueller said he personally does not support having a shuttle on the pier but the people he represents do.
“I make my decisions based on how the people who elected me feel,” Mueller said. “I personally don’t want to do this, but I’ve had a lot of people contact me who do. Probably two out of a hundred I’ve heard from don’t want this. I’ve got to do what the people who elected me want.”
Following the vote, Mayor Tim Kant said he believes the city will eventually have to take additional steps to further comply with ADA regulations at the pier. He said the city cannot restrict any disabled person with a motorized vehicle from using it on the pier.
“This is a starting point,” Kant said. “I suspect we’ll have some growing pains. As those rules have to be adjusted, they will have to be for public safety reasons. Public safety can not be compromised at the expense of ADA.”
In other business, the city passed an ordinance allowing people in single family residential zones in the city to keep domestic poultry.
The council also rezoned a property owned by Winterhaven Inc. at the southeast corner of Ettle Street and Cain Lane from R-6 mobile home park district to R-2 medium density single family residential zoning designation. Boone abstained from the vote and discussions about the rezoning because he is a part owner of the property.