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Neighbors cry foul ball

Council addresses noise, light and flying balls from home sport courts


Several West Linn families are looking for relief from the constant noise and disruption in their own backyards caused by neighboring sport courts and outdoor lighting. However, a proposed change to the city’s nuisance ordinance does not go far enough, according to some homeowners.

The West Linn City Council took up the issues of lighting, noise and the trespassing of flying balls during a work session Nov. 19. The council explored three possible changes to the city’s nuisance ordinance under the city community development code (CDC). However, they are choosing to move forward with only two of them.

Since 2010, the city has heard routinely from two different households with complaints relating to the noise and disruption of kids playing sports on private property.

Mindi and Tim McGill, who live on Remington Drive, have repeatedly called the police because of the light and noise and balls flying over their fence from neighbors Julie and Ryan Holmes, whose home on Kensington Court abuts the McGills’ property.

Currently, the city has no definition for sport courts. A sport court could range from a basketball hoop in a driveway to full-fledged tennis courts.

On Aug. 9, police issued a citation to Ryan Holmes for playing a loud game of basketball at 9:22 p.m., which comes with a hefty fine of $500. The city’s noise ordinance goes into effect at 7 p.m. This was the family’s second citation.

Bruce and Mary Swanson, who live on Fields Drive, say they used to dodge balls that routinely came over their fence and hit their home from the neighbors next door. The neighbors have recently moved.

However, other homeowners, like the Holmeses, want the freedom to play in their own backyards.

“Sport courts that are allowed need to be regulated. To cater to the few, that would be wrong,” Tim McGill said.

The city’s planning commission also examined the sport court dilemma this fall. The commission members urged city council to call sport courts nuisances under the CDC, but city staff determined the code would be too vague and too difficult to enforcement. The planning commission’s consideration to develop a set of substantial code additions to address outdoor lighting and recreational facilities was put on hold pending the city council’s action.

West Linn Assistant City Attorney Megan Thornton drafted an ordinance with three changes to the city’s nuisance code for city council review.

by: TIM AND MINDI MCGILL - The light from a sport court shines into the bedroom window of Tim and Mindi McGill, who are urging the city to change its regulations regarding sport courts.

Light restrictions

One of the McGills’ major complaints is the outdoor light that shines over their neighbor’s sport court. According to the McGills, the light shines into their bedroom window and is often left on all night, disturbing their sleep.

Under the proposed ordinance, all lights must be turned off by 10 p.m. Also, light trespassing will be measured. If a person can stand at a property line and a light bulb can be seen at a height of 6 feet, then it would be in violation of the ordinance.

According to Thornton, this would give an objective way to measure and enforce light trespassing. Some other cities control light trespassing by restricting the type of fixtures and how bright the bulbs are. But, these codes are more in-depth and harder to tackle and enforce.

For people like the McGills, this code change would help improve their situation.

“Would you want a bright light shining into your indoor and outdoor living space?” Mindi McGill asked the city council. “Two of us may have come forward, but it’s a much wider issue in West Linn.”

Thornton said the draft light ordinance would prevent the interference with sleep patterns, which is measurable and it is easy to regulate. However, the ordinance could be over-inclusive and could result in unwarranted disputes.

City councilors generally approved of this portion of the draft ordinance, however, some felt the 10 p.m. time was too late.

“If the light from a neighbor is shining into their bedroom, I think that is an issue,” Mayor John Kovash said.

by: VERN UYETAKE - Zach Holmes, 10, practices his pitch at the sport court installed at his family home.

Flying objects

Another concern brought up by residents about sport courts is the number of balls that come flying over fences. The McGills have collected bags full of balls that have come over their fence.

The proposed ordinance would make it an offense for an object thrown by a person to enter another person’s property and interfere or damage the property. This provision is intended for accidental reoccurring situations and mediation would be used to resolve the matter.

Though Thornton said the ordinance would be objective, would use mediation (such as higher fences or screening) and would be hard to enforce, she questioned who would be cited — children, parents or homeowners.

The ordinance is also partly redundant in that objects being thrown purposefully would be covered under the state criminal mischief statute.

The council agreed to not pursue this addition to the ordinance, with Council President Jenni Tan calling it Draconian.

“This seems to be driven by a very unfortunate circumstance,” Kovash said. “I’m a little reluctant to have a code that affects one family that acted irresponsibly.”

The McGills expressed continued concern about the potential harm of balls flying over their fence.

Noise

The final portion of the draft ordinance would move back the city’s noise restriction from its current 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Thornton said this change would be in line with neighboring communities and recognizes the long daylight hours in the summer.

The city has also received a petition from about 160 residents requesting that the city’s restrictive 7 p.m. noise ordinance be moved to 9 p.m.

Thornton pointed out that right now, under the current ordinance, people should not be mowing their lawns after 7 p.m. But some councilors felt the three-hour jump was too big. Councilor Teri Cummings suggested “dusk” and Tan leaned toward a consistent 9 p.m.

West Linn police say the current noise ordinance is too ambiguous and is hard to enforce and to prosecute.

The McGills were not pleased with the proposed time change, saying it just gives some people three more hours to continue making noise and does nothing to help alleviate their problem.

Resolution

The city will continue to fine-tune the draft ordinance regarding light and noise and will bring the issue back to city council for a public hearing, which will be open for public comment.

For some, however, it will not be enough. Tim McGill said he felt the planning commission was on the right course, but got derailed by the city staff and the council.

“They went pretty far field tonight,” he said.




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