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Columbia City parents vent over basketball hoop ordinance

Mayor: City will do 'very best we can' to address concerns

SPOTLIGHT PHOTO: MARK MILLER - A 'Children At Play' sign stands at the corner of Fifth and Pacific streets in Columbia City. Several portable basketball hoops are positioned on or along Fifth Street, as well as other neighborhood streets like Park Drive and Tahoma Street.The council chambers in Columbia City were packed Thursday, May 7, as residents complained about the city’s efforts to control the placement of basketball hoops in the public right of way.

The City Council of Columbia City passed an ordinance last September prohibiting portable basketball hoops from being placed on or alongside city streets, unless the owner got a permit from City Hall. There is a $20 fee for a permit, and the city retains the right to deny, revoke or modify the terms of a permit.

Since passing the hoops ordinance, the City Council has approved several permits for basketball hoops, including one approved on Feb. 5 for the home of Ryan and Brie Allen, who live on Fifth Street in northwest Columbia City.

But after a neighbor complained about the Allens’ basketball hoop to the City Council in March, the city decided to revoke the permit for safety reasons, citing the “unique curvature of the street” in a press release.

Columbia City Mayor Cheryl Young apologized to the Allens at Thursday’s meeting for the way in which the situation was handled. She said she reached out to them before they received official notice that their permit was revoked but was unable to get hold of them in time.

“I never had the opportunity to talk directly to you before you found out about this,” Young said. “So that’s one thing I just felt bad about.”

Young said the council would reconsider the Allens’ permit if they applied again.

Brie Allen said she appreciated Young’s apology. But she criticized the city’s attitude toward its youngest residents.

“We do feel ... you’re not supporting our children having outdoor activities and being active youth,” she said.

Jaime Smith, who lives on Park Drive, said she sees the ordinance as “punishing an entire city” over a “neighborhood dispute.”

“It’s not just the basketball hoops that we get harassed about,” Smith said. “It’s if they’re riding their bikes. I mean, they’re being children. They’re outside being kids.”

Pacific Street resident and father Trin Monahan said the ordinance, and the revocation of the Allens’ permit, plays into a perception of Columbia City as unfriendly to children.

“You’re sending a message that you don’t want families here,” he told Young.

After some prompting from Young, several neighbors who support the ordinance also spoke up during the meeting. They said they are concerned about unsafe play behavior they have observed.

“We love to watch the kids. We can sit in our TV room and watch kids playing. The concern that we have is a safety issue. And we’re seeing kids not watching for cars, not moving,” said Peggy Sharpe, another resident of Park Drive.

Jane Eggleston said she is concerned about coming around a corner while driving and hitting children who are in the street.

“My son died in a motorcycle accident,” said Eggleston. “There is nothing worse than losing your child ... and it is a safety issue.”

Although the tone of the 90-minute discussion was heated at times — at one point early on, Young banged her gavel and urged civility as people shouted over one another — there was a marked shift from beginning to end, with ordinance opponents coming across as less accusatory and Young as less defensive by the finish than at the start.

Cheryl Loupe, who also lives on Fifth Street, said she thinks both sides in the controversy can bridge the gap.

“We just need to work as a neighborhood to get this resolved and let the kids play,” Loupe said.

Before closing public comments for the evening, Young said the discussion had given her a lot to think about.

“We’re going to try to do what we can, and we’ll do the very best we can,” Young said, to applause.