Sykesville panel delays vote on ban on hoops

Members unanimous on 30-day postponement

October 15, 2003|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Faced last night with a roomful of opponents to a proposed ban on outdoor sports equipment on municipal streets, the Sykesville Town Council tabled the issue for 30 days to discuss revisions to the draft ordinance.

The unanimous decision to put off a vote on the ban came at a meeting that included a public hearing on the proposal and drew about 35 people, many of whom said the council was overstepping its bounds. Among the proposed revisions would be the establishment of safety zones on low-traffic cul-de-sacs.

"The entire state is watching you and will learn by what you do," said Ivy Wells of Patterson Court. "The analogy is that you are trying to take Santa Claus away from kids."

Wells said that she didn't think anything she could say would change the council's mind and asked when the next council election would be held.

Proponents of the law said it would protect children by keeping them out of the streets, and it would shield the town from potential lawsuits.

"The street is not a place to play," said David Hohenberger, of Revere Court, who noted that he fully supports the ban.

Hohenberger said his vehicle was damaged by a basketball, and he grazed a child playing in the street with the mirror of his vehicle.

"How did we get to this point where parents are defending the inherent right of children to play in the streets?" police Chief John R. Williams Jr. asked earlier yesterday. "I wish people would channel this energy into finding alternatives to street ball."

The ordinance prohibits basketball hoops from the public rights of way in Sykesville, where nearly 100 of them hang over roadways. Officials say the hoops slow traffic and have caused damage to municipal vehicles.

Violators would be warned once and then face a $100 fine that would escalate to $250 for third and subsequent offenses. The law would allow the equipment to be impounded. Many residents said that the fine should be $1.

"This is not a money-making activity, and we really don't want to get past a warning," said Councilwoman Debby Ellis. "The amount has to be enough that it's a deterrent."

By banning the hoops, Sykesville would join communities in New Jersey, Kentucky, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Oregon and Pennsylvania that, according to news accounts, have enacted similar measures.

In Maryland, Taneytown apparently was the first municipality to ban hoops and other sports equipment from the city's streets and sidewalks. Before its City Council enacted what officials called the emergency measure two months ago, three residents spoke in favor of the ban while six were opposed, saying they kept a close eye on their children. Officials report full compliance and no citations.

In Sykesville, the debate has gone on for months.

"No one can say that they have not had a chance to talk about this issue," said Matthew Candland, town manager. "It has come up in at least five meetings. Everything has been said."

Sykesville faces a potential liability because the equipment is on public streets, according to the town attorney who has strongly recommended the ban. "It is the way we have to go," said Mayor Jonathan Herman.

Williams calls the issue "a classic test of reasonableness."

The town charter requires a public hearing before any proposed ordinance becomes law, and any revised version will require a new hearing. Councilman Mark Rychwalski insisted that the revisions be done within 30 days.

Herman thanked the crowd for its input, saying, "We're your neighbors, and we do the same things that you do. We're doing everything in our power to uphold the law."

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