By Emily Klein
In a time when children are increasingly less likely to play outside, two basketball hoops on a neighborhood street in Sunset Hills are causing a stir with the city.
The basketball hoops on opposite sides of the street on Meadowglen Lane sit too close to the curb and have been deemed unlawful according to city code after a neighborhood homeowner complained, Mayor Pat Fribis said at the June 12 Board of Aldermen meeting.
In a 30-minute discussion, aldermen said they understood that the basketball hoops violated a city code, but several argued that the hoops weren’t bringing any harm. Many aldermen said they support children playing outside, and taking down the hoops might not encourage the kids to continue to play in the fresh air.
Public Works Director Bryson Baker sent a letter to the homeowners telling them of the violation and ordering them to move the poles. Having any obstruction in the right of way — an area with a city easement that usually touches the end of a house’s property line — is considered a public nuisance and must be removed according to city law.
Fribis reminded the board that since the issue of the poles has been brought to their attention, officials simply cannot ignore the law.
“It’s illegal in our city, as is in many cities and the county, to have a pole in the right of way that is an obstruction,” Fribis said. “We certainly cannot turn our back on a law that would be an impeachable offense. We have to address it — we either have to obey the law or change the law. Those are our only considerations at this time.”
Ward 2 Alderman Steve Bersche and new Ward 2 Alderman Casey Wong have worked together to try to find a compromise that still listens to residents’ complaints.
“The hoop has been there for 12 years and has never been a problem,” Bersche said. “I know (the constituents) are very angry and frustrated, because Wong and I hear their concerns.”
Baker argued that it’s his and his staff’s job is to enforce the code. He said he had no choice but to tell the homeowners to move the poles. But Fribis is sympathetic to the homeowners and implored the board to explore options to change the code.
Many aldermen also expressed their concerns about the harshness of the law. Since the poles are at the end of a cul-de-sac in the neighborhood that the aldermen don’t see as dangerous, they wondered if city officials could use discretion instead of forcing a removal of the poles.
City Attorney Robert E. Jones assured Fribis that he would look into whether changing the law was a possibility.
“I’d like to find if the city can exercise its discretion regarding obstructions. I’d like to see if there are any cases interpreting the state statute,” Jones said. “I think it’ll come down to whether all things in the right of way are obstructions, or whether the city can use discretion.”
The board promised to revisit the issue, and Jones said he will present research and solutions at the July meeting. Wong questioned the underlying reason for concern about the poles, and Baker said that his concern was following the code.
“If it’s in the code, our job as staff is to enforce the code,” Baker said. “That’s our No. 1 priority.”
He suggested that a possible solution if the law can’t be changed could be turning one of the poles.