Ill-placed Hoop Poles Called Foul By County

May 08, 1991|By Adam Sachs | Adam Sachs,Staff writer

Future Larry Birds honing their jump shots on improvised cul-de-sac basketball courts in the county soon might have to find another venueto perfect their rainbow 3-point heaves.

But at least temporarily, the County Commissioners have left the balls in the hands of the children -- and, in some cases, the adults -- who get their recreation on the streets of their own subdivisions.

The County Department of Public Works sent notices to residents who have erected basketball posts and baskets on county-owned rights of way, asking them to remove the "obstacles" because they create an "unsafe condition" for vehicle traffic and could open county government to lawsuits.

Rights of way are easements owned by the county that could be used for expanding roads or other projects. The county hasa legal right to clear obstacles.

The agency, sometimes guessing who owns the hoops, has informed residents that county workers would remove the structures after May 31 if the owners did not. The workersslapped stickers on the backboards saying that the baskets would be removed.

However, the commissioners ordered yesterday that action be delayed until they can confer and discuss liability issues with the county attorney. Recreation options near some of the sites are scarce, officials agreed.

"I feel like we're being Scrooges, but there's a question of liability," said Commissioner Donald I. Dell.

Public works has identified 42 basketball courts on county rights of way, the majority in South Carroll subdivisions. Six hoop owners have removed the baskets, while three others suggested they might, said Benton H. Watson, chief of roads operations. Others either haven't responded or have pleaded to let the baskets stay.

Sykesville residents Ross and Lois Miller urged Commissioner Elmer C. Lippy Jr. not to interfere with basketball on Blankner Road, a dead-end street.

"We have seven families that use it," said Lois Miller. "We have no access to school grounds, other than getting in a car and driving. It's a good outlet for kids. We feel like we're being harassed."

Said Watson, "It's a mistake to encourage children's activities in the street. We realize there's a very low volume of traffic in cul-de-sacs, but it only takes one car."

For example, he said, at one hoop location workers couldn't find an address to contact the owner because the mailbox had been knocked down, reportedly by a drunken driver.

"Kids could have been playing there," he said. "We need to find a better location than the street."

The county potentially can be liable whenever an incident involves county property, said Deputy County Attorney George Lahey.

Dell and Lippy said they might be willing to overlook the situation.

"If the obstacle isn't causing any trouble, I might ignore it and let it go," said Lippy.

"If you take that away,what other clean form of recreation will you put in its place? That's a good question."

Indicating that he is not out of touch with children, the 70-year-old commissioner reminisced about his days as a youth playing baseball in the middle of York Street in Manchester, where he said there was about as much traffic as in the new subdivisions.

Dell, 66, also displayed a softened attitude, saying he was not overly concerned about safety and liability issues and suggesting that parents accept responsibility.

"Boys will be boys, girls will begirls, and adults will be adults, for that matter," he said. "If they threw me the ball, I'd probably shoot it, too."

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