The language is there for all to see: Article VI, Section 7 of the Declaration of Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions for Crofton Orchards, recorded in county land records in Liber 4214, Page 96.
"No antennas, aerials, poles or towers shall be erected on a dwelling lot unless approval therefor is obtained in the manner set forth in Article V.
"This shall include, but not be limited to, television, radio and satellite reception apparatus, but shall not include basketball goals (if not in the front yard), flag poles (freestanding or mounted on the dwelling) or small bird houses or feeders."
What this all means is that Domenic and Linda Greco can't have a basketball hoop in their driveway.
But the couple put one up anyway, and twice the Crofton Civic Association warned them to take it down. Finally, community leaders sued.
Because the Grecos refused to comply, the suit says, "all other owners of lots in Crofton Orchard have suffered, and continue to suffer, immediate, substantial and irreparable harm for which there is no adequate remedy at law."
The Grecos, faced with a costly court fight and a case they didn't think they could win, gave in. It took Domenic Greco four hours to dismantle the hoop and remove the concrete that held up the pole.
* The fight to get the basketball hoop removed cost Crofton taxpayers $1,056. And it left the Grecos, who moved to their $225,000 home from New Carrollton two years ago, wondering why neighbors in their new community can't seem to get along. They put the hoop up for their three children, and said even the children of complaining neighbors used the court.
VJ "I think it's silly," said Angela Greco, "but that's covenant rules. I
just want to know why everyone didn't like it. Was it the way it looks or was it because it drew a crowd?"
By putting up a basketball hoop, they became players in a controversy that has brought neighbors in this 65-home subdivision to loggerheads and swamped the civic association with petitions and complaints about its enforcement of covenant violations.
"Enforcement depends a lot on the attitude of the residents," said Town Manager Jordan Harding, who has actively gone after violators. "Many people want every little thing enforced. There are others who don't really care, as long as the guy next door doesn't raise chickens."
"Most people want the covenants to be enforced," said Ed Dosek, president of the Crofton Civic Association. "Most fix their violations voluntarily. There are only a few that don't. That's not unlike anything else. If you've got 100 kids in a class, there will be five or six cut-ups."
Covenants, designed to keep communities uniform and maintain aesthetic standards, are legally binding agreements that can regulate everything from the color a front door can be painted to how high firewood can be stacked in the backyard.
In Crofton Orchards, for instance, covenants prohibit basketball
hoops in the front yard, forbid homeowners from erecting antennaes or satellite dishes and bar the construction of storage sheds.
Covenants are private contracts entered into when the homeowner signs the deed. They are enforced by the civic association, which has the burden of proving a violation exists and which must have a complaining homeowner who lives nearby sign a complaint.
This accounts for a major enforcement problem: Neighbors don't always want to turn in their neighbors.
"The guy says, 'Jordan, my neighbor has a playpen in his backyard,' " Harding said. " 'Don't use my name, because he's my neighbor and we drink beer together.' "
Harding had covenant enforcement high on his list when he became town manager over a year ago. Since then, he has investigated everything from fences a few inches too high to a "virtual animal farm" at a house. Unregistered cars and messy or debris-strewn lawns are more common complaints.
Since Harding has come on board, Crofton has nearly doubled the amount of money it spends on legal expenses -- most of it earmarked for covenant enforcement -- and hired a well-known Anglican priest from Annapolis to patrol the streets looking for violators.
* With at least four alleged violations in their community, 35 Crofton Orchards homeowners petitioned the civic association in October to do something. The petition listed the four complaints, which included two sheds, the Grecos' basketball hoop and a satellite dish "dressed as a deck umbrella."
Two of the complaints are under review by Crofton's attorney. One of the sheds -- in reality, a playpen -- was taken down by its owners.
The petition was brought to the board by Jack Zwirn, who lives two doors from the Grecos and is a candidate for secretary in Crofton's upcoming election.