"We aren't a biker town": Charitable event divides Scottsville

The Hell's Angels want to remake The Wild One in Scottsville. At least that's how it seems to some of the town's residents.

Bikers have big plans to converge on the small southern Albemarle river town next June. They're riding to raise money for children with brain tumors, but some Scottsville residents want to pull in the welcome mat from the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation's proposed Sunday morning fundraising celebration.

On July 15, at his first Scottsville Town Council meeting as mayor, Steve Phipps cast the tie-breaking vote in favor of the Ride for Life event– and against the wishes of a vocal group of Scottsvillians, who are accusing him of "ramming" the event down Scottsville's throat and of favoring his employer when he cast his vote.

"No one can see how it's going to benefit Scottsville," says Dena Radley, owner of a Scottsville business, The Sesame Seed. "And they want to hold it at 10 o'clock on Sunday morning. That's when church starts."

Town Councilor Robert Mellow echoes Radley's concern about bikers roaring into town during the church hour. In a town of 550 people, he believes 200-300 bikers would cause too much of a disturbance.

"On the Fourth of July, we have a lot more people than that here," Phipps counters.

Brian LaFontaine, president of the Scottsville Chamber of Commerce, says other small towns that have hosted the Ride for Life rallies have only positive things to say about the event. He describes the participants as "affluent family people" and notes that alcohol is not allowed during the ride or the light lunch that follows.

His reaction to the less-than-embracing welcome of opponents to the rally: "I was a little dismayed at the stereotypical depictions of bikers."

Mellow concedes that he doesn't think this particular bunch of bikers would tear up the town. "But it sets a precedent that the town could become known as a biker town," he adds.

"We put on an event you'd be proud to bring your grandmother to," says Pete ter Horst, director of the Pediatric Brain Tumor Foundation, which has been holding these events since 1984.

"More children die of brain tumors than any other disease in America," he says. Last year, the organization raised $3.5 million for brain tumor research.

Mellow lives two blocks from Dorrier Park, where the event would be held, and he also questions the economic benefit to the town.

For LaFontaine, the event "exposes the Town of Scottsville to many people who normally would just ride on through."

And ter Horst says that many of the participants stay in the town after the event to eat and even spend the night.

Beyond the disruption of the church hour what LaFontaine calls the "15-minute noise factor" Dena Radley raises another concern: both Phipps and another town councilor, Craig Stratton, are employees of LaFontaine's Sports 'n' More. "I'm most upset about the impropriety of two employees voting for something like this and not abstaining," she says.

"I hadn't even thought of that," replies Phipps. He and LaFontaine didn't discuss the issue beforehand, he says, adding that his being an employee of LaFontaine's "didn't really influence me."

So is LaFontaine trying to control Town Council through his two councilor employees? He laughs at the notion: "They put me in my place quite often."

More seriously, LaFontaine responds, "We're all professional people, and we don't influence each other's opinions."

Even biker critic Robert Mellow calls the notion of LaFontaine influencing Phipps and Stratton's votes "farfetched."

As a result of the backlash to the planned rally, Phipps has requested that the Ride for Life organizers hold their Celebration of Life ceremony at 1pm or even noon to assuage the church-hour faction. "It seems like a fair compromise," he says.

"It's up to the city to extend the invitation," says ter Horst. "We're not going to come if they don't want us."

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