Lakeside voters in May will have the chance to vote on ATV access in their city – again.
City councilors Wednesday gave the green light to a plan to place a measure on the ballot for the May election that would add a stretch of North Lake Road to the city’s approved ATV route, correcting, advocates say, an issue that shouldn’t have happened in the first place.
Residents weighed in on the ATV issue recently: The November general election featured two options for expanding ATV access in the city, either opening the entire city to the vehicles, or opening only a specific set of streets.
In the fall, voters chose the latter option, opening a route between the county park and Spinreel Dunes in a bid to encourage current and future tourism in the city amid the COVID-19 pandemic’s economic slowdown.
But a group of advocates in the city said there was a problem with the voter-approved route: Osprey Point RV Resort didn’t have access to it.
“By asking the will of the people on this vote, we can clean this mess up, and hopefully the will of the people will be heard and the proper route will be followed through on,” said Jim Towan, an advocate of putting the measure on the ballot, in comments to the council. “I am fully for opening North Lake Road, I think it’s probably what should’ve happened from the beginning.”
Towan and others asked the city council earlier this month to correct what they saw as an error in the route by adding a portion of North Lake Road, giving users staying at Osprey Point direct access to the dunes.
But councilors declined to do so directly. A slim majority agreed that amending the route by council action would subvert the will of the voters, modifying the plan nearly two-thirds of the city had approved just months earlier.
So, councilors agreed to consider putting the item on the upcoming election ballot, giving voters the chance to weigh in on the modification.
During Wednesday’s meeting, a handful of residents commented to councilors about their support for or concerns with the plan to put the item back to voters, with the vast majority speaking or writing in favor of the plan.
Most in favor of putting the item on the ballot argued that ATV access to Osprey Point would bring revenue to the city by way of the hospitality taxes the campground pays and the secondary benefits of becoming a destination city.
“If you’re going to go ahead and not amend this, then you’re hurting us. Because we have 60 sites that we can generate income for the city,” said Chris Barnett, one of the resort’s owners. “Not only will property values go up. The whole entire town can be a destination again.”
Those opposed to the plan commented that it was too soon to make a change after voters had already weighed in.
“We voted in a specific route, everybody knew what that route was,” resident Phyllis Vanes said in written comments for the meeting. “If Osprey being on the route was so important, it needed to be included in the original vote. We just voted in November, there’s no excuse for this.”
Still, councilors were supportive of the idea to take the issue out of their hands and place it back in those of city voters.
“We are elected to make decisions,” said Councilor Don Nuss. “But I’m a firm believer than anytime this body goes back to the people to defer a decision to the people of Lakeside, if you’re going to change it or alter it in any way, you should go back to the people.”
The primary concern from councilors was the potential – and still unknown – cost of placing a measure on the ballot.
That cost has been the subject of rumor in the city, with some saying it could be expensive. But Nuss and Mayor James Edwards were confident the city’s funds already budgeted for ballot measures would likely cover it.
They said they’d spoken to County Clerk Debbie Heller, who runs the county’s elections, who gave them the impression the cost would come in far lower than some rumors projected.
Still, Heller told the council she wouldn’t concretely know the cost of the measure until after the election.
“I’m sorry I cannot give you anything in writing as to the cost of the election,” Heller wrote in a statement to the council. “The cost will be determined after election, and then I will use the required formula that is adopted by the state that we must follow.”
After some discussion, councilors voted on the issue. Five voted in favor of placing the question on the ballot, while Councilor Thomas Miller voted against, citing the measure’s uncertain cost.
The special district election is May 18. Voter registration closes April 27, and ballots can be mailed to voters the next day. Ballots must be returned by 8 p.m. on Election Day.