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Communities clamp down on road races

Easton Police Officer Paul Meehan watches as runners in the Narragansett Summer Running Festival pass on the sidewalk last month.

Jessica Rinaldi for The Boston Globe

Easton Police Officer Paul Meehan watches as runners in the Narragansett Summer Running Festival pass on the sidewalk last month.

There is a battle of sorts brewing between residents running weekend errands and people running weekend charity races.

As road races and bike rides — such as the Pan-Massachusetts Challenge coursing from Sturbridge to Provincetown this weekend — continue to soar in popularity, some communities south of Boston are trying to strike a balance between the growing number of events and the causes they benefit, against the inconvenience they create, including road closures and the taxing of local services, like police details.

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In some communities, run, walk, or ride events seem to happen almost every weekend during the warmer months. This has prompted some cities and towns, including Plymouth and Hanover, to re-examine their application processes. And at least one community, Quincy, has imposed a moratorium on new races and rides.

They join an increasing number of cities and towns nationwide looking to get a handle on race events. In New York, officials in the Long Island town of Southold adopted a ban against for-profit road races in May. In Raleigh, N.C., city officials curbed the number by way of a regulation that limits all street closure permits to no more than 100 a year.

“We’re hearing that it’s a real problem around the state,” said Wayne Sampson, executive director of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association. “A lot of these races are increasing in size and there are an increasing amount of organizations that want to do them. The problem is that it’s a definite drain on resources.”

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So far, the issue is not being addressed statewide, but race by race at the local level, Sampson said.

Putting together a charity run, walk, or ride is getting increasingly difficult, said John Childs, the state’s representative for the Road Runners Club of America, and one of the founders of the South Shore Road Race Guide, a compilation of races south of Boston.

However, he said, “We don’t necessarily believe that’s a bad thing.”

Too many races are run by amateur organizers, backed by national sponsorships and looking to make a quick profit while taxing local resources, Childs said. Once the trend exhausts itself — and Childs said it will soon — the numbers will level off.

“If you looked at road racing 10 years ago, I bet you would’ve been lucky to find 500 races [statewide],” Childs said, adding that there are now about 1,300 a year. “There’s this huge running boom that people are trying to take advantage of . . . I would like to see more communities require race organizers have to do some kind of education and not simply say ‘I’m a race organizer.’ ”

In Plymouth, there are now up to 35 5K races a year, including a first-time event held July 4 that drew about 700 runners.

“Residents run into places that are blocked, and we’re starting to hear from people,” said Melissa Arrighi, Plymouth’s town manager. “In the past couple years [the numbers of road races] have tripled.”

The spike prompted town officials to begin drafting a policy that would automate and streamline the application process, and possibly introduce a fee scale, said Lee Hartmann, Plymouth’s planning director. The policy, which officials hope to have in place by January, is not intended to discourage race organizers from coming to town.

“It’s trying to encourage them to look at a designated route, for example the state forest, which has minimal impact on traffic and downtown locations,” Hartmann said. “We don’t want to look at it as a problem, but how do we do a better job attracting people here.”

Event organizers are required to meet with police to review security and the course map, said Police Captain John Rogers, adding that the department always seeks reimbursement from organizers for police detail shifts.

As more communities become saturated with road races, organizers are forced to look to other race-friendly places, like Hanover, which saw its road race applications double from three to six this year.

Anticipating a deluge of applications, selectmen adopted a road race policy in June. Among the stipulations is that applications must be filed at least six weeks before an event.

But unlike Plymouth and other communities, Hanover absorbs the cost of local services depending on the race, said Town Manager Troy B.G. Clarkson.

“If it’s not onerous, and during the course of business, we would cover that,” Clarkson said. “We’re not here to make money off of it.”

In Easton, which boasts a 19-year-old road race application policy — likely the oldest in the region — race organizers must pay a $25 application fee and a $100 deposit that they get back if there is no permanent damage to the race course, said Connor Read, Easton’s citizen business advocate. They must also pay for police details.

Now automated, the policy has come in handy recently. Since March 2012, the town received 16 charity race applications, 11 of them taking place this year, Read said.

In Quincy, a road race mecca attracting more than 40 applications a year, the annual Quincy half marathon, which had about 1,100 runners this year, costs organizers upwards of $12,000 for about 25 police details, said police Captain John Dougan. Other races average $5,000 for hired police help, he said, adding that the department tries not to charge smaller races if possible.

“It seemed like every Saturday or Sunday from April to October we were getting road race applications,” Dougan said. “We were getting inundated with all kinds of races that weren’t even Quincy-related because their communities wouldn’t [host] them.”

But after complaints from residents dealing with constant road closures started pouring in to Mayor Thomas P. Koch’s office, he asked the Licensing Board to adopt a moratorium on new applications.

“Road races for the most part are a very good thing. A lot of them are done for charity, and for a long time the city sort of had an open door, which really turned a lot of groups on to Quincy to host these events,” said Chris Walker, Koch’s spokesman. “We were reaching a critical mass in terms of the number of them, and they started impacting some neighborhoods.”

Since the moratorium was imposed early last year, the Licensing Board has rejected about half a dozen new applications, said chairman and city clerk Joseph P. Shea.

“We’re not as easy as we used to be,” Shea said. “You have to pick and choose. If it was a completely outside Quincy group and for-profit, we would tell them we can’t do it now.”

Jim Veneto, one of the directors of Plymouth’s Fourth of July 5K, launched his company, Wicked Awesome Productions, six months ago as a for-profit entity that primarily organizes road races. Although part of the proceeds from his events go to various charities, Veneto said he is aware that for-profit agencies are likely to be first targeted as communities reach road race saturation.

“That would not only squash me, but my partners if [communities] made it so impossible for me, if they make it difficult to do it,” Veneto said. “But my response is, ‘What can I do?’ . . . We work with the town; if they make demands, we meet them and exceed them. Until they shut us down because we’re a for-profit.”

Veneto said he supports towns streamlining the application process.

“I don’t see a problem with towns tightening up a little bit,” he said. “I support order.”

Katheleen Conti can be reached at kconti@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKConti.
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