Full-court press against ban expected

Crowd likely tonight at hearing on hoops bill


October 14, 2003|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Sykesville residents apparently will have one last shot at airing their views tonight on the Town Council's proposal to ban outdoor sports equipment -- including portable basketball hoops -- from streets.

Individual comments at a public hearing scheduled for tonight will be limited to a few minutes, said Mayor Jonathan S. Herman, who said he will call for a vote on the proposed ordinance immediately after the hearing.

Herman said the town's attorney strongly recommends that the measure be passed. Although the proposal has drawn vocal opposition, the mayor said Sunday that he expects it to become law.

"This is a simple issue. We would be negligent if we didn't address a structure that specifically says to kids, `Play in the street,'" Herman said. "It is a fundamentally bad idea to have cars and kids in the street. This is an accident waiting to happen. We cannot look the other way and we can't forget about it because our citizens are upset with us."

Sykesville faces a potential liability because the equipment "has been moved out of yards and into public rights of way," said Dennis Hoover, the town attorney.

Nearly 100 portable hoops line town streets, and several side roads have as many hoops as houses. Nearly all the baskets face the street and have caused damage to municipal snowplows and trash trucks, town officials have said.

Basketball hoops hovering over subdivision roads might be part of the suburban landscape and might bring recreational and social benefits to a community. But in towns across the country, they are increasingly the source of complaints. Sykesville modeled its proposed ban on one enacted in a Philadelphia suburb this year.

When Sykesville's Town Council introduced the ordinance last month, about 50 residents questioned officials at length.

"Kids' toys come with the territory," Neil Sweeney of Patterson Court said last month. "You might as well try to hold back the ocean."

A recreation council meeting last month drew numerous people, most of them opposed to the ban and protective of the hoops that have cost them up to $200.

"We have gone through the proper procedures, done all our homework and now we have to vote," said Councilwoman Jeannie Nichols, who is liaison to the Recreation and Parks Council.

The recreation panel is reviewing alternatives to street basketball, including building several courts in town parks, but has reached no decision, Nichols said. Susan Dolan, recreation council chairwoman, said the town will "not throw up basketball hoops everywhere," but will plan basketball locations that will be beneficial from safety and maintenance standpoints.

At the Sept. 28 council meeting, many residents voiced opposition to the ban, but agreed they did not want children playing in the streets. Instead of more of the same arguments against the ban, Herman asked residents to attend the public hearing with workable alternatives.

But Herman said that banning the hoops seems to be the only option.

"This ban is the only way we have to go," he said. "The town cannot afford to be sued if something should happen," he said.

The council, expecting a large crowd, moved the 7 p.m. hearing from the Town House to the media center at Sykesville Middle School, 7301 Springfield Ave.

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