BUCKHANNON — A debate over the legalities of skateboarding in the City of Buckhannon is underway and several concerned residents are seeking change.
On May 19, 1994, under Mayor Nancy C. Shobe’s administration, Buckhannon City Council enacted Ordinance No. 268 to ban skateboarding in the commercially zoned districts of “C-1,” “C-2” and “C-3” within the City of Buckhannon. The beginning of the Ordinance states, “Creating a criminal offense and penalty therefore against persons riding, operating or otherwise utilizing skateboards exclusively upon and within any street, road, alleyway, sidewalk, public parking lot, park or any other municipally, publicly or other government owned or leased property situated within the corporate limits of the City of Buckhannon.”
Fast-forward 16 years and the ordinance is still in place, but some Buckhannon residents want it amended. Local teen George Radabaugh, age 15, started a Change.org petition seeking to reverse the law and rebuild a skatepark in Buckhannon. The petition states, “We want the bill lifted that makes skateboarding illegal and a park built for the town.” The original goal was to obtain 200 signatures, but due to the petition spreading on Facebook, that goal bumped up to 1,000. As of Friday evening, the petition had already received 570 signatures in favor of lifting the city’s skateboarding ban.Ordinance No. 268 also mentions Ordinance No. 108 Section 10-8 of Article 10 and Ordinance No. 253. Ordinance No. 108 states, “No person can operate any bicycle on any sidewalk in the City of Buckhannon in such a manner so as to endanger or interfere with pedestrians using the sidewalk.” This was signed into place on February 16, 1961 by Mayor William Foster. On October 4, 1990, Mayor Anthony Gum signed No. 253, which amended the 1961 Ordinance by mentioning no operations of a skateboard on any sidewalks on “Main Street” or “skateboard in commercially zoned districts.” The 1990 amendment also states, “Ordinance No. 108 does not specifically address nor prohibit the riding and other usage of skateboards and other similar recreational devices, implements and vehicles upon any of the sidewalks and/or streets of the City of Buckhannon.”
During Thursday’s regular City Council meeting, local resident and Radabaugh’s family friend Melissa Daugherty, called in to ask the council to consider reviewing and amending the current skateboarding ban in Ordinance No. 268.
“I feel like times have changed a lot since the 90s. The ordinance was created without the use of technology, Internet and things we have today that can make skateboarding a lawful activity that would be healthy and a good outlet for our youth who are lacking things to do around here,” Daugherty said.
“My thing is, if a youth is scared that they’re going to get their board taken, then they’re not going to go to a cop when they need help, to where it creates a bad relationship with the youth and our cops,” Daugherty explained. “It’s no harder than mountain biking or anything else that we promote as Wild and Wonderful West Virginia. I mean, we are about outdoor, recreational, physical activity. We promote snowboarding, that’s skateboarding on snow.”
City Attorney Tom O’Neill stated in the meeting that the ordinance only outlaws skateboarding in the commercial section of Main Street on the sidewalks and the city’s commercially zoned districts C-1, C-2 and C-3. He asserted that skateboarding is perfectly legal in Buckhannon’s residential areas.
Daugherty also asked City Council to consider building another skate park sometime in the future for the youth, after times are better from the pandemic. She even offered to help with grant writing and fundraising.
Mayor Robbie Skinner compared the ordinance with the banning of bicycling on Main Street; however, Daugherty added that bikes are simply taken, and the violators are not fined. “The criminal part of it is what bothers me,” she said.
Daugherty claimed that a friend of her daughter’s had received a citation from the Police Department, but Police Chief Matthew Gregory said he can’t recall any recent citations written for skateboarding. Gregory explained that most citations written were in response to related destruction of property, not just skating.
David Thomas explained that in the 2000s, the City of Buckhannon funded around $30,000 for a skate park near Stockert Youth and Community Center, but he said use of the park decreased within 3-4 years and it was replaced with the Buckhannon Fire Department’s parking lot.
“We’re still looking for change because without sidewalks, there really aren’t a lot of places to skateboard and ride bikes, because if we can’t on sidewalks, it’s too dangerous in the roads,” said Radabaugh. “Our goal is to make it completely decriminalized… We would like a designated place to skateboard, so we don’t get into trouble.”
Mayor Skinner said that the Ordinance can be changed, added to, or replaced, but not just erased. The Council decided to look at the language of the ruling and discuss it further at another time.
Skateboarding is an officially designated sport and will appear in competition at the next Olympics. In 2016, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) voted to add baseball/softball, karate, skateboard, sports climbing and surfing into the famous international games. This added 18 events and 474 athletes for the Tokyo 2020, which has been postponed until 2021 due to COVID-19. This decision aimed to “take sport to the youth,” described IOC President Thomas Bach.